The way we eat and how we order food has changed due to the pandemic. And one day, your favorite restaurant could be a place you’ve never actually been to.
It’s the concept of a ghost kitchen, or virtual kitchen.
“It does not have a storefront, and does not have public access,” said Hudson Riehle, Senior VP of Research for the National Restaurant Association. “These are food preparation areas that function like a traditional restaurant kitchen in many ways, but they were not set up to have the public participate on site.”
The pandemic has made them more popular as more people are ordering from their phone.
“It is primarily driven by the continued demand by American consumers for convenient delivery food and beverage options,” he said.
Riehle explained that prior to the pandemic, one out of every 20 orders in the industry was done digitally.
”Under the pandemic environment now, that has dropped down to about one in every five,” he said.
It’s something restaurant industry leaders are paying more attention to, and finding solutions for.
For example, DoorDash recently announced Reopen for Delivery, a way to help restaurants reopen through delivery-only models in commercial kitchens. The idea is not new, ClusterTruck has been in the business of delivery-only food for over five years.
“100% of our business is delivery,” Chris Baggott, CEO & Co-founder of Clustertruck, said. “The fastest growing segment of food is prepared food delivery.”
ClusterTruck has expanded into seven locations.
“We make over 90 items. So we have Asian food, and we have cheeseburgers, and we have great vegetarian food.”
Their delivery is free as long as you are in their delivery zone. Baggot sees this model disruptive for catering and cooking, and less for dine-in restaurants.
“Honestly, it's how am I consuming food at home. It’s one of the reasons why we focus on quality so much, because we don't want people to have to trade quality for convenience,” he said.
As of September, nearly one in six restaurants, about 100,000, closed permanently or long term, according to the National Restaurant Association.
But the concept of the virtual kitchens might give some of those businesses a second chance or a new venture at surviving the pandemic.
“From the consumer's perspective there really is nothing more convenient than having the restaurant come to them,” Riehle said.