The Start-Ups Building ‘Dark Kitchens’ for Delivery-Only Restaurants

Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times:

“The success of Uber Eats, DoorDash and others suggests there is a demographic shift towards consumption of prepared meals at home,” said Michael Ronen, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “The time is now to try and stand up supply that is more efficient against that demand.”

Venture capitalists have all aligned on the best solution: kitchens that only serve delivery customers, known as “cloud”, “ghost” or “dark” kitchens, that use a combination of advanced food preparation, underused real estate and algorithm-driven optimisation to lower overheads and increase output.

There are companies that build these ghost kitchens, but they can spring up anywhere. A single storefront in strip mall here in Calgary is the address of thirteen restaurants, none of which you can actually eat at.

It is worth questioning, then, just what a restaurant is. Is it merely a kitchen with some chairs and tables attached to it, or is it more than that? Delivery-only restaurants are not a new thing, but they’re easier to promote as the use of food delivery apps increases.

I don’t think these restaurants replace sit-in dining. There will always be a market for a more formal dining room. And I don’t think they replace fast food restaurants, either, which serve impulse buys in person — something which these faceless kitchens can’t support. The optimistic result is that these restaurants will continue to rise and be an alternative as we increasingly treat cooking as a service. I worry, though, that the more likely scenario is that companies like Uber and Doordash will compete with restaurants directly.

See Also: Alexis C. Madrigal writing earlier this year in the Atlantic about the servant economy.