Ghost kitchens are growing in popularity, but for people whose experience lies primarily in conventional commercial kitchens, they can seem like a bit of a mystery. If you're looking to create a ghost kitchen of your own, here's what you need to know about designing and implementing a good plan.
WHAT IS A GHOST KITCHEN?
"Ghost kitchen" is the term for kitchens that only serve takeaway meals. That is, they don't actually have a sit-down dining area at all. Some restaurants might have a different area for customers who want to dine in, while others may not. The words "ghost kitchen" can also serve as a kind of catchall term. In some contexts, "ghost kitchen" or "cloud kitchen" are terms used by property owners whose primary goal is to make as much revenue per square foot as possible. Their emphasis is on filling their space with tenants as efficiently and safely as they can. "Dark kitchen" can refer to a kitchen operated by a single entity, who may be offering menus from multiple different brands.
GHOST KITCHEN CONCEPTS Since a ghost kitchen is just a kitchen without a dining room, there's more than one way to set one up. Here are five of the most common types of ghost kitchen design concepts:
1. PODS A pod is a very small, portable kitchen. Think of something like a food truck, or even a galley-style kitchen set up in a shipping container. These are good for caterers or other food service providers that need to be able to go from place to place and don't have a large, elaborate kitchen set up to worry about.
2. VIRTUAL DINING HALLS A virtual dining hall can accommodate a wide variety of menus. These are set up to handle the different preparation, cooking, and even packaging requirements of very different dishes. Delivery clients may not even realize that their favorite restaurants all operate out of the same kitchen!
3. SPIN-OFF KITCHENS Sometimes, chefs and restaurant owners have great ideas for a spin-off menu but don't necessarily have the resources to set up an entirely new restaurant. That's where a spin-off ghost kitchen comes in — it can give them the ability to exercise their creativity and make the menu they want, without detracting from their primary business or requiring them to risk opening a whole new restaurant.
4. EXPANDED CONCEPTS For restaurants based almost entirely on a dine-in model, setting up a takeaway or delivery service from their main kitchen may not be feasible. Setting up a ghost kitchen that offers a scaled-down version of its main menu can solve that problem.
5. SHARED SPACES If your restaurant has the means to do so, you can earn extra money and help out a smaller venue by designating some of that space as a ghost kitchen. Lease out some of your production area, set aside some of your parking space for delivery pickup, and you're set. GHOST KITCHEN DESIGN & PLANNING TIPS
As you can probably tell, each of these concepts requires a different ghost kitchen design and layout.
1. USING A POD A pod can be a great setting for a galley-style kitchen, where cooks have everything in easy reach and can prepare the entire menu with minimal walking. This might not work as well for virtual dining halls. Consider what kind of ghost kitchen you're operating before committing to a specific layout.
2. USING CONVEYOR BELTS Conveyor belts can be a big boon for kitchens that share space. Conveyor systems can transport each menu's finished dishes to a central food staging area, which cuts down on delays, mistakes, and walking. Delivery drivers pick up food from this area, and cooks don't have to experience disruptions to their workflow.
3. MOVABLE KITCHEN FIXTURES Ghost kitchens can be a great place for movable fixtures. (Think prep tables on casters.) These make the space more versatile and let items like tables pull double-duty as needed. For ghost kitchens that function as multiple different restaurants, the ability to reconfigure the layout as needed can be vitally important.
4. DON'T SKIMP ON FOOD PACKAGING It's important to pay attention to food packaging areas. Restaurants that provide dine-in service can sometimes get by providing a stellar dining experience, even if their takeout game isn't perfectly on point. For ghost kitchens, this isn't an option. If your food isn't arriving hot, fresh, and appetizing-looking, it's going to hurt your bottom line. Make sure you have the best packaging for your specific menu (or menus), and enough space to properly box up and bag everything safely.
5. LOOK AT THE DATA Focus on data. One emerging type of ghost kitchen is the "third-party app kitchen." Services like Uber Eats have a ton of customer data to pull from, so they know what menus do well and where. They're using this info to make their own ghost kitchens. You can do the same thing to improve your chances of success, even if you don't have a delivery app's worth of meticulously scraped consumer data. It'll let you know what you should offer to maximize your chances of success.
6. KNOW WHEN TO CALL IN A PROFESSIONAL Designing a ghost kitchen layout isn't like setting up a regular commercial kitchen. Even if you have years of experience with the latter, it's still a good idea to consult with professional designers. ChefVue offers restaurant owners the ability to collaborate with ghost kitchen design professionals and chefs in real-time, to create designs that maximize safety and efficiency.