Updated: Jan 4
So what on earth is a ghost kitchen? Is it a collection of ghosts and witches that come out on Halloween and cook up some potions? Is it haunted kitchens in old manner houses? Neither is correct, not even remotely.
A ghost kitchen, or cloud kitchen, is a relatively modern business approach to the food industry. A ghost kitchen is a kitchen often in large cities that is used only for a delivery business. It is merely a kitchen with no seating, waiters and hosts, but just chefs and delivery drivers. The food is made and then shipped out to people nearby.
Now, this concept only works well in large cities, with many people wanting delivery. It would not work in a rural town with only a few people ordering delivery.
One of the notable businesses that rent out these ghost kitchen spaces is Cloud Kitchen, founded by the former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in 2016. So indeed, if someone so successful has invested in these kitchens, they must be a great idea... maybe.
Does this sound like a good idea? Perhaps, perhaps not. I see the pros and cons of this idea. So let's jump in and see how these new ghost kitchens may alter the hospitality industry.
I love going to restaurants, and I love trying new menu items and interacting with the servers. You see, restaurants seem to be split into two categories: the food and the hospitality side. Included in the hospitality side would be the waiters, the ambiance, the act of serving, and not worrying about any cleanup.
With a ghost kitchen, you only get the food side. There is no ambiance other than your house and no server other than the delivery driver, so in a way, a ghost kitchen can not be comparable to a restaurant. It is better compared to a grocery store that can deliver pre-made meals at a seemingly higher quality.
So you'd think that with losing the hospitality side, your food may be cheaper. You don't have to pay for a large restaurant, don't have pay servers, front-of-house managers, etc. But this often isn't the case; these kitchens will usually charge restaurant prices and slap on a nice delivery fee. So now I have to pay the same restaurant price for the ambiance of my house.
But wait, there is so much more. The quality of food won't be the same. The hope is that you will get food within about five minutes of being cooked in a restaurant. This amount could be much longer, especially if you live further from the kitchen. Then there is the plating quality—a lovely white plate, a beautiful and colorful dish plated to perfection... in a restaurant. You're not going to get that experience in delivery. You'll get your nice cardboard or styrofoam box, which completely ruins the experience!
And then, there is the problem of the actual delivery driver. In recent years restaurants have had to use special packaging to seal fry bags or buy cans of pop to stop the delivery drivers from eating your food. And yes, a restaurant I've worked in has seen this problem and had to take measures against it. So think again before you order food delivered to your door.
So, can you tell I'm not a huge fan of food delivery and, therefore, ghost kitchens? I want my food and to be hot, plated nicely, not stolen and with the ambiance and hospitality of a restaurant.
Now, with that being said, this concept does have a couple of promising aspects. For a business owner, you'll cut costs and have to pay for a kitchen rental. The managers can focus only on food creativity and not on the front of the house.
This concept has even been shown to work, especially during COVID-19. Although numerous restaurants have gone under, many perform just as well, if not better, than before by focusing solely on take-out and delivery. Additionally, if fear over the virus continues, many people will want to get delivery rather than go to a restaurant where someone may have COVID-19.
My Message to You
Though there are some promising signs of ghost kitchens, I fear that delivery encourages people to eat at home and not cook. Food brings people together, as does cooking with others and being around others in a restaurant.
So my message to you is this. Cook and eat with those around you at home. When it is safe, support your local restaurants and servers by going into a restaurant and experiencing the ambiance these restaurants work hard to deliver. With that being said, Ghost kitchens are an exciting concept. Still, they lack many aspects that food so rightfully needs to be respected: served hot and plated masterfully while served by a waiter in the perfect ambiance.
“The Flying Chef”