Labor shortages, high food costs, increased competition. These are just a few of the challenges facing the restaurant industry, pre-pandemic. Factor in the forced closures and limits on dine-in service imposed by COVID-19, and it’s hard to imagine how independent restaurants will be able to survive.
In an industry already facing shrinking profit margins, restaurateurs are finding it more challenging than ever to pay their bills, while also trying to retain their staff. In recent weeks, Yelp stated that 16,000 restaurants have closed. So what’s the answer? Restaurants are simply going to have to adjust their business model to stay in business.
A low-cost, low-risk option that has recently surfaced is that of expansion through ghost kitchens. A ghost kitchen, or dark kitchen, is essentially a food preparation and cooking facility designed to create delivery-only meals. Expanding a restaurant’s existing kitchen space to include a ghost kitchen is something that will not only be beneficial to diversifying a business now, but in the future, as well. Here are five ways to maximize a restaurant through ghost kitchen operations:
Diversify Cuisines and Concepts to Attract a Broader Customer Base
Greater diversity means a greater chance to attract and please more customers. Consider the recent “food hall” trend where groups of diners, whether friends or family members, can all opt for totally different cuisines while still eating together in the same space. By incorporating ghost kitchen operations, a restaurant can essentially replicate the food hall experience – virtually. Groups of diners can order various cuisines and menu items while only paying one delivery fee, ensuring all items ordered will arrive together with one driver.
Also, don’t be afraid to follow trends. The unstoppable rise of plant-based items, as well as local, sustainable and high-quality ingredients, are worth paying attention to. International cuisines also continue to gain momentum in the United States, especially as consumers are looking for new and unique experiences. By leveraging ghost kitchen concepts, a restaurant can more quickly jump onto trends and expand in new ways.
Expand Menu Offerings to Provide Designed-For-Delivery Items
Review your menu and identify areas of opportunity. It’s also important to review your ingredient list and inventory. Are there new menu items you could easily create with what you already have?
Be sure to create items that will travel well and uphold their presentation, taste and integrity. While steamed mussels served in a garlic broth with crusty bread might not travel well, consider turning this dish into a toast with steamed mussels on top instead.
Quality is the key to success. Especially with the lack of personal contact, it’s incredibly important to perfectly execute and deliver a menu item to ensure repeat orders for the future.
Think Out of the Box
Think differently and be creative. The market has changed, as well as the rules for success. It is a new world of opportunities. Consumers are interested in new experiences especially when it comes to dining. Don’t be afraid to take risks, as long as you are listening to feedback and adjusting accordingly. Maybe it is a modern interpretation of a classic dish, or a mash-up of two items (remember the “cronut?”)
Build Online Presence
It is essential to treat your new virtual brand as if it was a brick and mortar restaurant. Update your website, social media outlets and online platforms with up-to-date information to leverage your online audience and build followers. Your branding should look attractive and most importantly, be consistent. Consider creating a rewards program to encourage positive reviews and feedback.
Personalize Customer Service
Even though delivery service reduces personal contact with customers, there are still ways to create a virtual connection with customers. Make each person who orders from you feel as special as you would if they were dining in your restaurant. Consider including a handwritten note or complimentary item as a surprise with their delivery. Another way to personally contact is through social media. Repost your customers’ content on your Instagram and Facebook pages with positive commentary.
In conclusion, almost every restaurant owner should consider incorporating ghost kitchen operations into their existing business model. The future of the restaurant industry will rely on delivery and digital. Look into franchising or licensing options, and consult with an expert in the ghost kitchen industry to set yourself up for success. Restaurant owners do not have to face these challenging times alone. Tap into an existing virtual restaurant or ghost kitchen concept which bring built-in customer bases, defined brands, training and marketing support.
Alp Franko is the founder of The Local Culinary, a virtual restaurant group providing more than 50 modern, chef-driven food delivery options inspired by worldwide cuisine. Citing the immediate demand for delivery due to the pandemic, The Local Culinary launched the first-ever ghost kitchen franchise model to give restaurant owners access to its profit-driven brands and successful delivery-only model. For any questions, contact Alp Franko at Alp@TheLocalCulinary.com.