While the phrase “ghost kitchen” may conjure up images of haunted houses, the reality is a bit more mundane.
Through Jeffrey Miller, Colorado State University
Ghost kitchens are food preparation operations with no servers, no dining room, and no parking – really, no public presence.
But on food delivery apps, they are alive and well.
In short, ghost kitchens are physical spaces for operators to create food for off-premises consumption. And on apps like Grubhub and DoorDash, listings for restaurants operating in ghost kitchens are generally no different from listings for physical operations. For example, where I live in northern Colorado, there is a restaurant called Rocco’s Ravioli that shows up on apps. But Rocco’s does not have a storefront. It is a food delivery service that prepares food in a ghost kitchen.
One trend I see is the formation of central, police station-style ghost kitchens with multiple restaurants or brands working in the same physical space. These are often located in industrial parks on the outskirts of cities, as there is no need to pay downtown rents when there is no facade operation.
Why ghost kitchens matter
While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the first Ghost Kitchen opened, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that accelerated their growth.
By March 2020, most US jurisdictions had forced restaurants close their dining rooms to limit the spread of the coronavirus. While some restaurants have closed never to reopen, others have moved to a delivery or takeout model with varying levels of success. Also, when restaurants reopened, things weren’t the same as they were in pre-pandemic times.
Some small food operators have used these kitchens to gain a foothold in the market at a time when opening a standard restaurant with a dining area would have been unthinkable. As long as high fees charged by major delivery services could be mitigated or built into the price, food delivery services working in ghost kitchens could find a way to make a living. Even national chains like Chili’s and Applebee’s used this type of kitchens to keep cash and test new menu items using different brand names in case the ideas fail.
With customers quickly and easily adapting to the trend, ghost kitchens are likely to be here to stay, well beyond the COVID-19 era.