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With the emergence of ghost kitchens, you could easily walk into your favourite eatery and be told you must go away and order your food from an app instead.
Don't worry, we're not about to break the news that your chopping board is haunted. Ghost kitchens are professional kitchens used by delivery-only restaurants. There's no shopfront, no waiters, no seating. It's just the kitchen, hooked up to a delivery receiving platform and a fleet of delivery drivers and riders. They also go by 'virtual restaurants', 'cloud kitchens' or 'dark kitchen', and they're taking over the restaurant model as we know it.
There was a time when eating restaurant-quality food required you to actually go to a restaurant. But as access to a wider array of food has increased, and consumers demand more convenience, the game has changed. Today, you could get dressed up and visit your favourite eatery, or you could enjoy that same delicious food on your sofa - no shoes required. And ghost kitchens are capitalising on this trend.
And a trend it certainly is. Technomic data shows that 86% of hungry consumers opt for off-premise services on a monthly basis.
The thing that ties these kitchens to their respective delivery drivers is in your pocket – your smartphone, to be precise. The exponential use and growth of third-party delivery apps has had a huge impact on this change. Mobile apps, such as UberEats and Deliveroo, will be used this year by 38 million people, in the US alone, which is set to grow to 44 million next year.
It's projected that food delivery will grow by 12% each year, over the next 5 years as the population chooses to opt for at home dining.
As more people are choosing to eat at home, and delivery becomes even faster and more convenient, restaurants themselves needn't function as they always have. If most of their patrons are at home, then they don't need waiters, or hosts, or even the tables, chairs and cutlery that would otherwise be necessary. Instead, the kitchen alone – the pumping heart of every restaurant, is all that stands in the landscape of virtual restaurants.
As hard as these spectral kitchens are working, the delivery element of this trend also carries its fair share of the weight. Afterall, it only takes one hangry customer to leave a scathing review, when their food arrives late and cold. Technology like real-time traffic alerts, which help delivery drivers dodge congestion, are vital to make this paradigm work.
Speaking of the changes his business has weathered, Ricky Lopez - head chef and owner of Top Round Roast Beef in San Francisco spoke to The New York Times saying, “Delivery used to be maybe a quarter of my business, now it's about 75 percent of it."
For virtual kitchens, delivery is the lifeblood of the business; not only has this option moved diners out of restaurants, this changing tide has also moved location intelligence further.
Remember the last time you stared with anticipation at your phone, as the little dot on the map crept closer and closer? You could practically smell those sweet aromas of the cuisine du jour. Advances like HERE Tracking make it possible, so you can see exactly where your food is in real-time. And solutions like HERE Network Positioning mean there won't be any interruptions caused by network or connectivity.
One of the most important factors here is the speed and convenience of delivery. This is especially vital for ghost kitchens since this is the only way to get food onto the table.
When asked how the ordering process could be improved, Uber Eats customers agreed that tracking was vital, and called for more detail. In response, the company updated the app experience for a sample market with a 5-tier tracking bar complete with animations, 'Latest Arrival By' times, and the name and contact number of the delivery driver.
If it wasn't so accessible and intuitive to track your food, the appeal could easily wane. When it comes to food after all – it's natural (and good common sense) to be curious about what it takes to get it onto your plate. Location intelligence shines a light into the black hole that used to dominate the final and, some might argue – the most important step, in the business of taking that first bite.