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The Case for a Ghost Kitchen

Ghost kitchens were gaining in popularity before the pandemic.  Now they are even more important; in fact, they have leapt from trending to mainstream in the matter of months instead of years.  Many foodservice operations already have access to a ghost kitchen and just about every operator should consider aligning with one.  That is, of course, after weighing the pros and cons for your unique goals.

Simply put, a ghost kitchen is a kitchen without a dining room. Think of it as a catering kitchen that can be utilized as a powerful revenue generator and a solution provider…especially for foodservice operators such as college campuses, medical centers, larger corporate work campuses, and quick service restaurant chains.  That said, even a smaller operation should investigate if a ghost kitchen is the right answer for you.

The explosion of food delivery technology and equipment has set the ghost kitchen up for long-term success. Let’s explore four key components to a successful integration of a ghost kitchen in your operation, namely the revenue stream opportunity, the solutions a ghost kitchen can offer, the importance of a well-executed operations strategy, and key design aspects.

When a Bakery isn’t Just a Bakery

I walked into a ghost kitchen last week by accident. I was checking out a new bakery near my house that a friend mentioned. I entered the front door to find an assortment of activity: a coffee bar with pastries, fresh bread loaves to go, retail foods, grocery store items, a virtual menu posted for order pick-up, and a back kitchen that bakes breads for high end restaurants in town.   This wasn’t your basic bakery.  This was a ghost kitchen masquerading as a bakery with a good number of revenue streams. And, like this one, the sky is the limit to your imagination. Cooking classes, corporate cooking events, pop-up dinners, culinary incubator, commissary for any food production, mail order foods… The revenue streams can be broad, and no idea should be negated without investigation.

Providing a Solution

A ghost kitchen can provide an effective solution to the three biggest challenges that managers and owners face:  labor shortage, expensive real estate space in “great restaurant locations,” and the lack of kitchen space in current operations.

Ghost kitchens can centralize meal production so that overall labor costs systemwide are lower. In addition, many operators report a more consistent food product and quality. The ghost kitchen also allows for “smaller” retail outlets in high rent areas by moving some of the food storage and production to the remote kitchen.  In fact, many owners report that they can have more retail outlets in key locations knowing they can service them with one central kitchen. This is helpful with today’s customer who expects food to be available at their fingertips.

Limitless Options

We know we want to maximize revenue streams.  Now we need to figure out which ones will be most profitable given how the ghost kitchen will be used.  A qualified foodservice design consultant will be able to assist you by listening to your needs, assisting you in prioritizing your goals and identifying your options.  Ask yourselves, what do we want to achieve and how can we get there?  For example, if the kitchen is part of a large campus then we need to ask, what is its primary use? How will it support the overall food program and how will it achieve maximum efficiency?

We just read that the sky is the limit…but what are some options?

Ghost kitchens can be a catalyst to:

  • Reach out to the local community to provide foodservice for profit or non-profit
  • Prepare home meal replacements and mail order foods
  • Prepare pre-packaged food items
  • Research and develop menu items
  • Work with hunting organizations and local farms to provide butchery services
  • Provide emergency preparedness
  • Work with local fisheries to promote sustainable fishing practices
  • Work with local organics companies to promote sustainable agriculture
  • Work with other campus schools like Ag and Animal Science to provide kitchen support for making ice cream and local food products
  • Use the kitchen as a teaching platform for students and the community
  • Market the kitchen to national and regional food delivery companies to provide virtual restaurant meals to the local community
  • And the list goes on…

Identifying the type of ghost kitchen necessary is critical in the effort to maximize profits. Managers must execute a cost benefit analysis to strategically position their ghost kitchen for success.

Form and Function

There is no one-size-fits-all design.  Instead “form” follows “function,” which is why we need to first figure out the ghost kitchen’s intended use.  We can, however, group ghost kitchens into the following more popular types:

  1. Food storage and rough cold prep only | Ready to ship to food outlets for final cooking and service.
  2. Bakery commissary | Focused on baked goods and shipping to outlets for final sales.
  3. Full-service kitchen, with food storage, prep, and cooking | This kitchen is set up for maximum flexibility, including meal preparation and delivery.
  4. Hybrid | Any combination of the above based on the business model

The experienced foodservice design consultant knows the important key features of these kitchens and can be a significant asset to your design team.  Some key features include but are not limited to:

  • Flexible open prep areas with few walls
  • Mobile equipment
  • Flexible equipment systems – plug and play
  • Storage areas for maximum density and room for easy expansion should the kitchen demand grow over time

It is important to design an ergonomically friendly kitchen within budget and with on-time construction.  The efficient and well-designed ghost kitchen will be an effective vehicle to maximize your operation’s profits now and in years to come.

By:  Kip Serfozo, FCSI, LEED AP, WELL AP
Director of Design – East Coast | Atlanta


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