The business models of dark kitchens

Dark kitchens can take many forms. These virtual kitchens, also known as ghost restaurants, all have the same operational process: orders come in, food is prepared, packaged meals go out to the customer. However, there is a difference in the way their operations are executed. Let’s have a look at a few of the business model types for these delivery-only restaurants.

1. The “traditional” dark kitchen

Although the concept hasn’t really been around long enough to earn the “traditional” moniker, this set-up is the dark kitchen standard operational model. It’s when one brand owns or rents a single kitchen location without offering a dining room. With one brand using one kitchen, these businesses generally focus on a single type of cuisine and rely on delivery channels or employees to handle orders and deliveries.

2. Multi-brand dark kitchen

Multiple brands under one parent company share one kitchen in this set-up, keeping operational costs down. The success of this model is based on data analytics: each separate brand/cuisine type has its own unique identity from a marketing perspective and uses data insights to supply the most popular meals based on local demand for each different type of cuisine.

3. Takeaway dark kitchen

This set-up is much like the “traditional” dark kitchen, except it also hosts customers in addition to offering delivery – not to dine, but to wait for their food and pick it up themselves, see the kitchen in action, interact with employees, etc. Essentially, it’s a dark kitchen-normal restaurant hybrid. As you can imagine, a larger space and more investment in decor are needed for this business – even without a dining room – but it offers more opportunities to forge customer connections.

4. Aggregator-owned dark kitchen

Delivery aggregator channels are also kicking off their own dark kitchen models, offering empty kitchen space and minimal infrastructure that restaurant businesses can rent. These businesses benefit from the delivery aggregator’s fleet and online ordering and menu creation platform. In essence, the only processes that restaurant employees need to handle have to do with cooking the food. There may be many small kitchens operating within one larger kitchen space, with multiple restaurants cooking at any given moment.

5. Aggregator-owned dark kitchen plus

This model is very similar to the aggregator-owned dark kitchen, except that more infrastructure and optimised kitchen process frameworks are included in the offering. A storefront like that involved in a takeaway dark kitchen may also be part of the model. For example, the delivery aggregator might provide a well-equipped kitchen for the restaurant business to use and take care of every process – including data-driven demand management – except the cooking and menu.

6. Outsourced dark kitchen

The newest addition to the dark kitchen business model landscape, this set-up allows a restaurant to outsource almost any – or every – process, except the finishing touches. This is done in partnership with another business that specializes in food preparation as well as order processing and delivery. The final seller is only minimally involved in the cooking process, investing all of its efforts in a flawless, differentiating final product that is sure to delight.

Depending on the opportunities in your area, there are different ways dark kitchens can start their business. When starting a virtual kitchen, you should have a look at the different possibilities available in your area. One thing is sure: the dark kitchen business is still not fully shaped and more models will keep on adding as the industry is changing.

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