The Rise Of The Dark Kitchen

Delivery only restaurants are a response to increasing costs and competition

The UK restaurant sector is in trouble. The number of restaurants going bust went up by a fifth in 2017, and popular high street chains such as Strada, Jamie’s Italian and Byron are all set to close around a third of their sites in 2018. High on the list of restaurateurs’ grievances are rising wage costs, unavailability of staff, and the increased cost of food due to the fall in the value of the pound. Add to this the ever rising levels of competition in the market, and things are beginning to look distinctly pear shaped for our restaurant businesses.

Ghost restaurants come out of the shadows

As a result of unfavourable market conditions for bricks and mortar restaurants, dark kitchens, also known as ghost restaurants, are becoming more common. These delivery only establishments have no physical restaurant premises in the conventional sense, where diners can walk in, sit at a table and enjoy a meal. Instead, their food is only accessible online or through a mobile app, and solely via home delivery. The benefits of this model are clear, and offer a much needed efficiency boost to restaurant businesses. The elimination of customer seating and waiting areas – which are often underused or even simply vacant – slashes rent costs, and there is no need to employ serving staff. Reducing overheads whilst simultaneously catering to an increased consumer preference towards home delivery appears to be a win win for all concerned.

Deliveroo Editions, cuisines of the world

Another of the key attractions with dark kitchens is their ability to offer multiple cuisines from the same location. Deliveroo, the popular home delivery courier, launched its dark kitchen service Deliveroo Editions in May 2017. The concept is simple: existing restaurants, whether branded chains or local eateries, enter into partnership with Deliveroo Editions, who recreate the restaurant’s food from their dark kitchen and deliver it to customers.

Hosting different restaurants in this way has multiple benefits. Firstly, it allows dark kitchens to offer a wide variety of different cuisines from a single location, appealing to a broad spectrum of consumer tastes. Whether you fancy a spicy chicken curry or a simple cheese sandwich, the dark kitchen can provide. What’s more, dark kitchens enable restaurants without their own delivery services to tap into the lucrative home delivery market. Working closely with the chefs of the original restaurants, dark kitchen managers make sure that standardised dishes are produced which honour their brand. If a customer orders Nando’s or KFC from a dark kitchen, it should look and taste exactly the same as if it had come from a traditional outlet. The sharing of ingredients across different brands in a dark kitchen also improves economies of scale.

Flexibility at the heart of the concept

Another crucial value in the dark kitchen model lies in its ability to change menus quickly and easily. Many traditional restaurants pop up in response to changing tastes and trends, leaving them vulnerable when the new food fads roll into town. Dark kitchens face no such trouble. With no physical premises to refit or remodel they can change their menus – or even the entire concept of their restaurants – quickly and easily. The ability to adapt to trends and real time sales figures is a crucial asset in the often fickle restaurant market. If a dark kitchen notices that a dish is not performing as well as expected, they can simply substitute it for something else.

Whilst proprietors of dark kitchens do miss out on walk in sales and the high markups of drinks purchases from dine in customers, it is difficult to question their business model given the current state of the sector. Perhaps most importantly, dark kitchens are capitalising on an overall market shift towards home delivery. Their ability to operate without any of the high overheads which have always plagued traditional restaurants could be the cornerstone of their success.

Will dark kitchens save the restaurant business? Or will they signal the end of the brick and mortar restaurant? Do you prefer to dine in or take food away? Share your thoughts and opinions.

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