From the expansive growth in third-party delivery platforms has emerged a new trend, the Cloud Kitchen. Also known as dark kitchens, virtual restaurants or ghost kitchens, these concepts are focused on off-premise dining and operate without any front of house staff.
This new segment has a variety of formats ranging from delivery-only with no store front to kiosk-only ordering. While some operators have developed their own dedicated kitchen, others are opting for a commissary kitchen format, sharing space with other businesses to further reduce costs.
These new pickup and delivery focused concepts are attractive for many reasons:
Lower Overhead and Startup Costs-cloud kitchens can operate in smaller and more affordable spaces and without an emphasis on dine-in business, there are fewer upfront investments in design, seating and things like plates and utensils.
More Efficient Operations-with the focus entirely on off-premise dining, staff can be more efficient in the kitchen.
Reduced Labor Expenses-no front of house means no cashiers, servers or front of house management, eliminating a significant portion of the labor required for a standard restaurant.
Better Guest Experience-instead of takeout and delivery being an afterthought of an already busy kitchen, staff is focused sending out hot food, quickly, ensuring the quality of delivery and pickup orders.
Menu Flexibility-since all orders come through digital channels, there is no cost to reprint menus, allowing for frequent menu changes and experimentation.
While these new concepts are less risky than starting up a traditional restaurant, they do pose challenges as well. Orders are primarily coming in via third-party online ordering platforms, which can have their pitfalls. Implementing the proper cloud kitchen technology stack can help overcome some of these challenges.
Point of Sale–even without front of house operations, cloud kitchens still need a POS system to track sales and labor and provide important business reporting.
Inventory–a good inventory software system will reduce food costs, help identify profitable menu items and make ordering easier.
Third-Party Order Aggregation–orders coming in from different third-party services like UberEats and GrubHub can be automatically accepted, injected into the POS and sent to the kitchen, streamlining operations and reducing errors.
KDS System-with little to no interaction with guests, order execution is critical. Implementing a Kitchen Display System can ensure that the kitchen operates more efficiently. With a KDS, tickets are never lost, orders are prepared timely and there are far fewer mistakes.
Self-Order Kiosks–adding a limited storefront can offer additional order streams via pickup orders and walk-in guests. Providing self-service kiosks allows guests to order inside without the need for cashiers.
With steady growth projected for online ordering and delivery, there’s no doubt that the cloud kitchen concept will continue to grow as restaurants seek out better ways to execute orders from online channels. Cloud kitchen technology should also continue to evolve to meet the needs of this emerging segment.