The Future of Foodservice Will Mean Embracing the Dark Side

The off-premise trend has exploded over the last couple of years and the outbreak of COVID-19 has highlighted how it will continue to shape the foodservice landscape after the pandemic is over.

Despite seeing losses in revenue, foodservice outlets have reported that deliveries in several markets are growing. Market leader McDonald’s, for example, effectively doubled its deliveries in Australia to almost 10 percent of sales.

Without an army of franchisees, however, smaller, independent operators are unlikely to pull off the same feat, facing a multitude of operational and economic obstacles. According to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, for these businesses, there may be hope in dark kitchens.

The idea behind a dark kitchen (also known as a virtual brand or ghost kitchen) is for a restaurant to set-up and run a second or multiple food offerings from an existing premises. The new offering is run out of the same kitchen with food prepared by the same chefs but under a different brand name. This also provides restaurants with an opportunity to better utilise staff outputs and reduce food waste.

A typical dark kitchen is able to accommodate the preparation of several different types of cuisines. Without a physical dining location to renovate, front-of-house staff, and menus to reprint, companies can also try out new brands and cuisines with less effort and expense.

“Consumers are understandably reticent about trying to get back to normal too quickly, but they are still interested in the occasional indulgent meal,” commented Ryan Whittaker, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData.

“According to a survey by GlobalData, 34 percent of global consumers agreed that they expect to order restaurant deliveries more often than pre-COVID-19.”

As infections and responses fluctuate by nation and region, foodservice is expected to continue to experience significant disruption. Dark kitchens, sites that exist solely to serve the delivery needs of foodservice brands, allow brands to extend their reach from relatively cheap real estate - such as industrial estates or car parks - while avoiding direct contact with customers.

“Driven by logistics-focused aggregators such as UberEats and Deliveroo, alongside more integrated companies such as Keatz or Taster, dark kitchens can allow restaurants to operate out of purpose-built, low-cost structures, often with multiple brands and operators on site,” explained Whittaker.

“As recently as last year, these operations were shown to be attracting tech investors like SoftBank and Amazon. Ultimately, these solutions can keep costs down and extend the radius of delivery substantially for foodservice brands.”

In the absence of a vaccine and tumultuous infection rates, many brands will have to innovate delivery to stay viable. Dark kitchens present a key strategy to get hot food into the customer’s hands as quickly as possible.