The Rise of the Dark Kitchen During COVID-19

With the COVID-19 threat still active globally, many industries have had to greatly pivot their business models to function. One such pivot is in the restaurant and hospitality industry, which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and the resulting lockdown restrictions. Many lockdown or stay-in-place orders restricted dine-in restaurants from operating. In areas where they could operate customers still felt hesitant for a sit-down experience in fear of getting infected. This has resulted in the rise of the “Dark Kitchen.”

A Dark Kitchen, also known as a Virtual or Ghost Kitchen sells food exclusively through delivery. Essentially it does not have a front of house. This concept thereby eliminates the need for customer seating or waiting areas. Restaurants therefore can reduce overheads and save costs on rental, décor, and serving staff and focus purely on making food for delivery. With the rise of online ordering and delivery apps, dark kitchens are becoming popular globally.

The Dark Kitchen Business Model

This concept also allows for more flexibility when it comes to menu trends and branding. They can adapt its menu and branding according to the newest food trends and customer tastes. Since dark kitchens are mainly online, it also allows businesses to save costs because they do not have to reprint menus or change front of house branding.

The dark kitchen model strives to bring the same food quality experience as a fine dining sit-down restaurant. Chefs in dark kitchens are therefore allowed to experiment more with different kinds of menus and meals. The dark kitchen model also allows small businesses to expand their brand and brand awareness in a very competitive market already filled by multinational brands. Some restaurants pool resources in a multi-restaurant dark kitchen model, while others prefer to cook in their own private ghost restaurant. Multiple kitchens allow for many varied cuisines prepared in a single facility.

Obviously one of the major ways in which a dark kitchen function is to use technology. Customers can now use their personal devices to order and pay for meals directly from their personal devices. Dark kitchens allow menus to be online and to be accessed digitally.

Dark kitchen operators found themselves to be uniquely prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent health and safety guidelines. They have a smaller staff, having individual packaging for meals, and make food specifically designed for delivery. Only time will time how popular dark kitchens may become In South Africa, but they are here to stay.

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