Ghost kitchens are a hauntingly hot trend for 2022. They’re a perfect fit for new dining habits developed during this pandemic.
Ghost kitchens provide a take-out or delivery experience only. They may be operated by known brands or chains. Wendy’s, for instance, is planning to open 700 ghost kitchens over the next five years. Or they may be owned by a local chef.
In the rural south, we have a tradition of barbecue served out of the back door of a house. There’s no written menu and once the ribs are gone, they’re gone. Word of mouth is the only advertising. But don’t be fooled by the circumstances, the food can be superior. Around here, you can also find drop-by-the-barn fish fries on Friday nights in the spring.
As ghost kitchens have grown in larger cities, rural versions of the trend have expanded into plant-based establishments like vegan twisted potatoes served from the back of otherwise abandoned (and perhaps ghostly) industrial buildings. Food is available for pick-up only.
In a similar fashion, a church near my home rents out space in its industrial kitchen for food startups. Some place their products in local grocery stores or sell at farmers’ markets. A few have grown into brick-and-mortar venues.
While brick-and-mortar was the previous goal of such startups, the increase in takeout prompted by the ongoing pandemic may mean ghost kitchens will revise their objectives. Not only is the market more friendly for take-out, remaining a ghost kitchen eliminates many of the staff shortage problems currently experienced by full-service restaurants.
The best restaurant dining experience I’ve had in the past year was consuming a salad delivered from Goop Kitchen’s ghost kitchen. Known as GP’s Clssic-ish Cobb, the salad contained a 7-minute egg, avocado, tomatoes, Point Reyes blue cheese, roasted golden beets, Mama Lil’s peppers and house pickled shishitos, little gem, and radicchio served with dijon mustard vinaigrette.
Compared to my favorite over $20 local salad, Goop’s seems like a bargain at $16.29. Having less staff means less overhead which can mean less expense for the same food. Goop takes advantage of owner Gwyneth Paltrow’s celebrity making it seem less ghost and more stealth.
Another successful ghost kitchen concept comes from Guy Fieri in the form of Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen. Guy along with chef Robert Earl partners with existing restaurants to cook and sell his products in new markets.
Beyond these, Virtual Dining Concepts offers ghost kitchens in the form of TikTok Kitchen, Barstool Bites, NASCAR Refuel, MrBeast Burger, Larray’s Loaded Mac & Cheese, Mariah’s Cookies, Mario’s Tortas Lopez, Pauly D’s Italian Subs, FoodGod Truffle Fries, Steve Harvey’s Family Food, Wing Squad, Buddy V’s Cake Slice, P.Za Kitchen.
As staffing remains difficult and pandemic surges continue, the environment seems conducive for ghost kitchens to expand.
Having had some mediocre to bad restaurant meals recently, I can see that putting more funds toward food and food preparation rather toward food service has the potential to improve quality. As a consumer, that sounds great to me.
On the other side of the equation is the permanent loss of jobs in the food service sector. I don’t know whether a significant number of those jobs can be made up in other industries. There could be skill, education, or experience barriers that prevent some workers from making a transition.
While there may be a temporary downside, I feel like ghost kitchens are a great avenue for bringing new food concepts to market quickly. I love innovation so I’m embracing this change. Won’t you join me for a take-out experience?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”