Dark kitchens, ghost kitchens, cloud kitchens… they all sound a bit odd to be honest. But although they’ve been around for a while, since the pandemic these delivery only kitchens are on the rise.
So what exactly are they? Imagine a restaurant with no front of house, seating space or waiters. They are designed solely for food preparation, packing and delivery, creating a super efficient takeaway haven. And it’s not just the Wagamama’s and the Five Guys of the world that are using them. Smaller, independent restaurants are seeing the benefits of utilising them too.
There has been some speculation in the industry that dark kitchens are taking business away from hospitality venues offering traditional in person dining. But we’ve really not found that to be the case. In fact, when asked, 74% of people said they ordered in to replace cooking, not eating out. Businesses can fulfil online orders more efficiently, without getting in the way of, or detracting from those eating in. They are different experiences, requiring different planning and preparations, and dark kitchens can help with that.
Thinking about exploring the dark kitchen route? Here’s what you might need to consider.
There’s a definite balance to be achieved when it comes to finding the perfect location for your delivery kitchen. Whilst dark kitchens are industrial, need space and are not consumer facing, they do need to be close to where your customers are. Remember these are solely for delivery and in order to use bikes and mopeds (which are much more cost efficient for delivery) you need to be near residential areas, not on the outskirts.
You also need to have enough space so the delivery drivers and riders can park safely to pick up your orders. Parking, as we know, can be difficult to find in city centres. Our pals Jacuna Kitchen really nail this. Like us, they’re from hospitality, so they get what it’s like for operators, and they understand delivery. They have kitchens all across England’s major cities, from London to Leeds.
It’s no secret that staffing in today’s market is a challenge. Another fun effect of the pandemic, cheers covid 19. But let’s not be negative. This is kind of the beauty of dark kitchens. They’re built for efficiency. You don’t need waiters or front of house staff and whilst packaging and presentation are still important for takeaways, it’s not the same as plating up in a restaurant kitchen. So whilst you need to make sure you have enough staff to meet customer demand, your dark kitchen really might not need as many as you think!
We know we bang on about it a lot, but building your brand online really is key. Remember, with a dark kitchen there’s no natural footfall or external signage to tempt your customers in. They’re called ghost kitchens for a reason! Without you shouting about it, your loyal customers might not even realise you have one. So get on social, write emails, spread the word, send out flyers… we really don’t mind, just tell people.
Excuse us during this quick ad break… but you definitely need to consider partnering with a sophisticated D2C provider, like Slerp. You’ll probably already be using a marketplace to get your name out there in the world of online ordering. But long term, direct ordering is where it’s at. If you’re relying on only marketplaces, you can’t access any of YOUR data! With Slerp you keep it. This is so important when it comes to starting a dark kitchen because as we said, there’s no footfall to rely on. Take it one step further with your own loyalty programme and drive loyalty amongst your existing customers. You can also control your volumes and set limits by time slots, so you never have to sacrifice on quality. Adverts finished, have a read here for more info on this.
Naturally not all your dishes may be suited to takeaway and delivery, and that’s okay! It can be better to do less, well, rather than trying to do it all. You might want to start out with your most popular dishes if you’re not sure what will work. Think about how food might transport, what people actually want to eat at home or whether you simply want to have a bit of separation between your online menu and bricks and mortar one. You could even create a couple of ‘delivery exclusive’ dishes to encourage online ordering.
There’s clearly lots to think about here. Opening a dark kitchen is not something that should be rushed, but it is definitely something you might want to consider. Hopefully we’ve helped you to take the first step.