What Is a Ghost Restaurant?
A ghost restaurant, also known as a virtual restaurant or cloud kitchen, is a foodservice establishment that offers take-out only. These “ghostly” eateries don’t have a storefront, so customers can’t come to pick up their own food. Ghost restaurants deliver food directly to their patrons, often through the use of third-party delivery services.
Generally, virtual restaurants function just like traditional restaurants, in that customers’ food is prepared once they order it. As a result, many establishments offer a lot of customization options for their menu items. Adapting to a ghost restaurant format can help your business get through the difficult times caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Should I Open a Ghost Restaurant?
Use the following questions to decide if a ghost restaurant business model is right for you:
1. Do You Have Access to Prime Real Estate?
Your location can help you decide if a ghost restaurant is the way to go. A virtual kitchen foodservice model is especially great for high-rent areas. Instead of hoping to find a prime location to draw foot traffic, restaurateurs can establish their virtual restaurant in any neighborhood they see fit, so long as their delivery service can easily access customers.
2. Do You Need a Dining Space?
Many popular fast-casual establishments in cities are bound by the requirement for seating and waiting space, even though a large percentage of their customers aren’t dining in. So, offering only delivery helps virtual restaurants avoid the problem of underutilized space.
Advantages of Ghost Restaurants
Here are some benefits ghost restaurants offer that traditional eateries can't:
- Flexibility of concept: Being app- or web-based means that you can change your menu whenever you like, without having to worry about updating signage or printed materials.
- Adjustable menu: If an ingredient becomes too expensive or is no longer accessible in your area, you can easily swap out your menu items to suit what is available to you.
- Smaller financial investment: Think about all the expensive elements that don’t apply to virtual restaurants: decor, signage, dinnerware, and additional staff members to serve as servers or hosts.
- Opportunity for experimentation: Ghost restaurants are the perfect opportunity to experiment with new concepts, because you can easily scrap ideas that aren’t working.
Setting Up a Ghost Restaurant Kitchen
In cloud restaurants, setting up your kitchen space will be your top priority and where you allocate most of your funds. Because you don’t have to allow square footage for a dining area, you have much more room to customize your kitchen space. Depending on your budget, you can opt for some specialized cooking equipment that you probably never had room for in a traditional restaurant.
Using One Kitchen for Several Concepts
You can own multiple ghost restaurants and operate them out of the same kitchen. Especially if your menus have ingredient overlap, you can prepare food for two separate concepts in one efficient space.
Renting a Kitchen
If owning or leasing a customizable space isn’t in your budget, you can work in a commissary kitchen. A commissary kitchen is a complete kitchen space that is available for rent. Although some commissaries are shared, it is usually best for ghost restaurateurs to rent private commissaries. While other commissary users, like caterers and food truck operators, need the kitchen space for prep time, you’ll need it for the same hours that you’d need a traditional restaurant kitchen. As a result, working out a schedule with other users could be challenging.
How to Attract Customer to Your Ghost Restaurant
Since a ghost restaurant can’t rely on foot traffic for patrons, it is important that these businesses have tech-savvy marketing approaches. This being said, flexibility and nearly-instant gratification are two qualities that make ghost restaurants a good fit for younger customers. For that reason, it is important that your virtual restaurant has a strong online presence.
1. Partner with Food Delivery Apps
Many ghost restaurateurs opt to partner with take-out apps to attract customers. If you become a featured restaurant on one of these apps, you can gain exposure to customers who have the immediate intention of ordering. As a bonus, these apps arrange to pick up your customers’ food when it is ready, and they also deliver it to them. With these apps, all you need to worry about is preparing orders for delivery.
2. Create an Attractive, Easy-to-Use Website
If no food ordering apps are available in your area, or if you’d prefer to handle these processes in-house, make sure that your restaurant has a quality website that is equipped with a functional online order form.
Create social media accounts to help potential customers discover your restaurant's website. Post frequently and encourage your customers to tag you if they share posts about their food. When they do, interact with them. Without this online presence, your faceless restaurant could suffer from being out of sight and out of mind.
If you want to try an experimental restaurant concept and you're unsure about investing in a storefront, opening a ghost restaurant could be the best option for you. These cloud kitchens are becoming increasingly popular in metropolitan areas, and they cater to busy, young customers who like customization and instant gratification. You may currently have a restaurant space but have limited options during the coronavirus outbreak. By treating your kitchen space as a ghost restaurant, you will help increase sales and keep your business going during these tough times.