Restaurant Growth Focuses on Virtual, Ghost Kitchens

The bright spot for the industry centers around online ordering and food delivery.

September 21, 2020

NEW YORK—The pandemic triggered a surge in food delivery and takeout, making ghost kitchens coupled with virtual eateries one of the few areas of growth in the otherwise struggling restaurant industry, the Washington Post reports.

Ghost kitchens, named because there’s no dining room, have sprung up all over to allow restaurants to prepare more meals for takeout and delivery. Some restaurants have tested virtual restaurant concepts as limited, digital only test runs. For example, Brinker International, which owns Maggiano’s Little Italy and Chili’s, tested It’s Just Wings a virtual brand with delivery partner DoorDash, which will bring in $150 million.

Euromonitor International found worldwide, delivery sales increased more than two-fold from 2014 and 2019, according to Michael Schaefer, global lead for food and beverage. China has about 7,500 dark kitchens for delivery only meals, while the United States has 1,500 and the United Kingdom 750. Schaefer estimated ghost kitchens could generate $1 trillion worldwide by 2030.

“So many restaurant and restaurant-adjacent businesses are having to rethink their whole existence since the pandemic that many more operators and companies of all kinds are making bets on this,” Schaefer said.

Zuul, a ghost kitchen in New York, makes takeout for a slew of restaurants. Zuul CEO Corey Manicone pointed to the pandemic as accelerating ghost kitchens and pushing food delivery adoption. “It’s been a wild time, nothing I ever anticipated dealing with,” he said. “It’s accelerating what we thought was inevitable: a very delivery-focused industry.”

For more on this trend, read “Ghost Kitchens” in the September 2020 issue of NACS Magazine.