It's time to strike while the iron is hot.
Every once a while, technologies create opportunities that change industries. Right now, the restaurant industry is going through a change that will alter it forever. Ghost (or cloud, virtual, dark) kitchens represent an opportunity like you have never seen before. And for good reason:
- They are cheap to open.
- They do not require much staff.
- They do not require a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
- You only need a good concept, a simple menu, FREE technology, and a couple of cooks (you might even have them already).
You're probably thinking that this sounds amazing for other restaurants, but what about for me? Should I open a ghost kitchen? Should I open a ghost kitchen selling food that is different from what I'm currently selling in my restaurant? Should I open a ghost kitchen selling food that's already on my menu in my own kitchen or in someone else's kitchen? The quick answer is, yes.
You should open at least one ghost kitchen right now and strike while the iron is hot.
Where Do I Open My Ghost Kitchen?
What type of ghost kitchen will work best for your restaurant? That is something you will need to figure out for yourself or consult with an industry professional. But there isn't a restaurant in the world that should not have a ghost kitchen operating within their restaurants. Unless, of course, you are cranking it out seven days a week at all meal periods and have no room available for more cooks or food production. In this case, you might consider opening a ghost kitchen that only serves food on your slower days, say Tuesday through Friday, and shut it down on the other days that are busier. You definitely have more flexibility with a ghost kitchen versus your traditional brick and mortar.
A burgeoning trend is to open your concept in a virtual kitchen center (or to-go food hall or cloud/ghost kitchen facilities) and pay rent for their kitchen space. All you need to do is train a couple of cooks to handle it now. There are some negatives to this model, but there are also a lot of positives in that you can duplicate your concept pretty quickly. For example, if your concept succeeds in say, Los Angeles, then you can look into something like CloudKitchens or Kitchen United who have 6–8 locations across the country and open your concept in a different part of Los Angeles, or in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, or wherever they have a location available. These facilities are opening in all major cities, giving you the opportunity to get into another concept or open in another city very inexpensively.
Another option is to expand into someone else's restaurant. Maybe you have a friend, partner, or family member in another city that has a restaurant. Set up your cloud kitchen in their facility and work out a licensing or franchise deal for the space.
What Type of Concept Should You Open?
Ahhhh ... the million-dollar question. Generally speaking, restaurants either open a ghost kitchen that’s a different concept than what they currently serve to maximize on an audience they are not reaching, or they stick with what they know and open a ghost kitchen that is a similar concept but more focused to maximize on an already successful part of their menu.
For example, one of my clients owns an Egyptian restaurant in Morgantown, Virginia. It was hit pretty hard by COVID-19 closures. Rather than sitting back and doing nothing, the owner responded quickly, shifted gears, and opened an Italian build-your-own-pasta concept out of his current kitchen. It was a quick success. Then he added a Nashville-style fried chicken concept to the mix. This has also proven to be quite successful. Now, we are working on a hamburger concept that I set to launch in a Q1 2021. Remember, all of these are concepts are out of his Egyptian brick and mortar restaurant.
On the flip side, let’s say you sell burgers, hotdogs, pizza and wings on your menu right now—a pretty classic American sports bar menu. Opening a ghost kitchen concept that sells just wings or just burgers makes total sense. I work with a client that has a pretty wide menu selling all of these classic sports bar items. He is in Michigan so he also serves the regional favorite, poutine. Together, we put together a strategy for opening three ghost kitchen concepts: a poutine-only concept, a wings-only concept, and hotdog-only concept. All three of the concepts are doing quite well due in part from the added search engine optimization (SEO) he is benefitting from with the focused menus on third-party delivery sites. Keep in mind, he is doing all of this in addition to his regular restaurant as well.
Ghost Kitchens Help You Get Found on the Internet
People have become reliant on carry-out, and let’s face it, are not using the yellow pages anymore. This means they are constantly searching the Internet for the next place they want to try and they are using different search terms these days as well. Ghost kitchens help your restaurant intercept their search traffic.
For example, people may search for the best hotdog in their city. In this case, my client’s hotdog concept would come up top of list but his restaurant wouldn't even though it sells hot dogs. The most important thing you can do to increase search results is make sure your restaurant is set up with the correct categories. What I mean by this is if you’re a wings-only concept, wings should be your number one category and wings should be listed all over your digital menus. Then you can add in categories like Buffalo Wings, Boneless Wings, Honey BBQ Wings, and of course other menu items like sides, salads, drinks. In the example of the Egyptian food restaurant above, very few people search for Egyptian food; they search for Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean food. Making the change in his main category from Egyptian to Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean, resulted in an instant uptick in the number of orders he was getting.
Taking your time and putting thought into setting your categories and then double checking to make sure they’re accurate is the absolute most important thing that you can do to increase your orders.
The moral of this story is that if you want to grow and expand your business with one of the best growth opportunities our industry has seen in years, then you should seriously consider opening a ghost kitchen (or virtual/cloud/dark). If this is something you are interested in, you might consider taking a training course to help shrink your time to market and do it right from the get go.
Just keep in mind, it’s a little bit like the Wild Wild West right now, so must act quickly, strategically and systematically if you want to claim your piece of this new frontier.
Ryan Gromfin is an author, speaker, chef, restaurateur, and the most followed restaurant coach in the world. He helps restaurant owners and operators increase profits, improve operations, and scale and grow their businesses. Ryan is the founder of therestaurantboss.com, clickbacon.com, scalemyrestaurant.com, and the newly launched Ghost Kitchen Bootcamp training program that guides restaurant owners through the process of strategically, systematically, and successfully opening a ghost kitchen in just 10 days.