Can Ghost Kitchens—Plus a Food Hall—Save Restaurants?

The new concept has takeout and delivery, plus outdoor seating.

July 24, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, D.C. restaurateur Aaron Gordon was forced to close his restaurants’ dining rooms. He worried that his restaurants—in fact, restaurants—were doomed in the way they do business, and then he saw a local pizzeria earning 110% of pre-pandemic sales by offering takeout and delivery. That’s how he got involved with Ghostline, an establishment set to open Sept. 1 that will allow several chefs to cook different foods at the same time and offer them for takeout, delivery or consumption at an outdoor seating area.

According to the Washington Post, this “ghost food hall” offers foodservice operators an unusual business model that aims to carry them through the COVID crisis. Ghost food halls combine “ghost kitchens,” which serve meals exclusively by delivery, with food halls, both of which have become popular in recent years, said Alex Susskind, associate dean for academic affairs at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

As NACS Daily reported last month, several foodservice providers have adopted the virtual or “ghost” kitchen concept, but adding seating is a new twist. Because coronavirus is making indoor dining less safe than before, Susskind said many people who were skeptical of takeout and delivery are suddenly using those services and finding themselves hungry for new food options. “And let’s be real,” he said. “People get tired of pizza delivery.”

Making a kitchen or food hall “ghost” reduces operating expenses by forgoing service staff and an attractive interior, Susskind said. Owners must factor in delivery costs and, like Gordon, may choose to employ their own drivers to get more polished service and save the high fees charged by third-party companies, such as Uber Eats. Workers at ghost food halls in cities can also deliver by bicycle.

Most ghost kitchens offer only delivery and often choose an affordable location that may or may not be in a population-dense area. Ghostline will be on one of the city’s main arteries and convenient for people who want to pick up food or sit on the patio, which has room for about 50 diners to social distance.

Gordon expects about 80% of his business to come from takeout, as well as delivery within a two-to-three-mile radius. He removed half of the existing seating in the ghost food hall’s building—formerly a different restaurant—to make more kitchen space. Three nearby parking spots will be designated for delivery drivers and takeout customers. The idea, Gordon said, is to maintain some element of the typical restaurant experience within this atypical model.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.

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