Restaurant industry analysts have said that in a period of just a few months, the pandemic has thrust the ghost kitchen market several years into the future. As more ghost kitchens come into the market, traditional operators may need to adapt to shifting budgetary needs and consumer expectations. A Restaurant Dive article reported recently that Peter Schatzberg, founder of Dubai-based Sweetheart Kitchen, said while a typical restaurant processes 15 to 20 delivery orders per hour, a ghost kitchen can process 60 orders – and with a single employee. If ghost kitchens increasingly demonstrate such economies of scale – by churning out orders quickly to more customers, with fewer staff, working from real estate occupying a smaller footprint – it will likely change the game for restaurant operators offering delivery from their traditional kitchens. How could your restaurant adapt?
No question, the restaurant landscape will look a lot different once we emerge from the pandemic. Technomic estimates that 20 to 25 percent of independent restaurants won’t reopen. It’s easy to dwell on the sad realities of losing these businesses, but what if this period is what is required to usher in an industry transformation that many restaurant operators and employees would argue is long-needed? In a recent Eater report, two dozen restaurant leaders were asked to predict what the industry might look like in five years. Many of them see reasons for optimism – but first, they say some broken systems need to be overhauled when it comes to employee compensation, food transparency, consumer education about the true cost of food, management of the supply chain, and changes to the ownership structure of restaurant businesses. In the meantime, what’s clear is that consumers’ demand for restaurant meals won’t diminish – and as the Washington Post reports, new service formats like ghost kitchens are actually experiencing significant growth right now to meet that demand. While the experience of dining on restaurant food may well change in the coming months in years, perhaps the range of new restaurant businesses that emerge from this period will serve as incubators for fresh ideas on making the industry work more sustainably for all.
Even before the pandemic, ghost kitchens were on the rise for their ability to ensure faster, less expensive food preparation and more efficient delivery to customers looking for off-premise dining options. Now, many restaurant operators are looking at ghost kitchens as a critical way forward at a time of great uncertainty for the industry. They may be on to something: Recent research from Euromonitor found that the global market for ghost kitchens could reach $1 trillion by 2030 – and in the process, capture big slices of industry segments including drive-thru sales, take-out foodservice, ready-to-eat meals, pre-packaged cooking ingredients, dine-in foodservice and packaged snacks. But when you’ve been running a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant, what actions (and investment) are required to pivot to the ghost-kitchen model? Food distributor US Foods is aiming to give operators a hand with that transition through its newly launched US Foods Ghost Kitchens program. The company promises that for an average start-up investment below $5,000, they can help operators open a ghost kitchen concept in about three weeks and achieve an average profit margin exceeding 35 percent. The program includes market research, marketing support, a digital technology framework, menu optimization and management guidance.