It’s no secret that food delivery services have exploded in the past year as people have stayed at home more often during the pandemic.
Bloomberg Second Measure, a tech company that analyzes consumer habits, reported earlier this month that in April, sales of meal delivery services collectively increased 36% year-over-year. .
This trend has led to the explosion of a particular type of restaurant: ghost kitchens.
Ghost Kitchens are delivery-only restaurants whose menu items are prepared from existing professional kitchens or storefronts. It allows restaurants to highlight certain menu offerings under a different name or expand to other types of cuisine with little overhead.
Ghost kitchens aren’t an entirely new idea, but they have become more common as the industry has shifted to heavier take-out options. Their virtual brands are only available online or through third-party delivery apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, and EatStreet.
If you don’t recognize a new restaurant through an app and take a closer look, you may notice that the address listed belongs to an existing establishment in town. Chances are it wasn’t a mistake.
For example, It’s Just Wings says its address is 213 Fort Riley Blvd., the same as Chili’s Grill and Bar, and The Country’s Best Chicken says it’s at 511 McCall Road, the site of Pizza Ranch.
Tamara Knutsen-Hagemann, who has been a part-time DoorDash driver since last spring, said she noticed these types of orders start to appear around summer.
“The first time I got a call to take one, I was like, ‘What is this? I’ve never heard of this place, “and then it took me to Chile,” she said. “When I walked inside they were like, ‘Yeah, that’s a ghost kitchen. … I think that’s a pretty smart idea. I mean, if you have the kitchen and you have the equipment to deliver something different, why not? “
Vista Drive-In, 1911 Tuttle Creek Blvd., is another local restaurant that has partnered with Virtual Kitchens to expand their offering, providing an additional source of income during the pandemic, without putting too much additional pressure on employees.
In addition to their usual classic American fast food dishes like burgers and fries, Vista also serves dishes from Lopez Tacos, Mexican street food under the name of comedian and actor George Lopez, and Mariah’s Cookies, pastries under a singer mark – singer Mariah Carey.
Andy Streeter, managing director of Vista, said he was initially contacted by Nextbite, the parent company of Lopez Tacos, which serves as a marketplace for virtual kitchens, at the end of 2019. Sysco, a food distributor with which Vista has already worked, shared more information about Mariah’s cookies and virtual catering concepts.
“(We thought) instead of finding a way not to do it, let’s find a way to do it,” said Brad Streeter, owner of Vista Drive-In and Andy’s dad, “which is a good one. philosophy for many things. “
Vista started marketing Lopez Tacos and Mariah’s Cookies products at the end of March 2020. In return for space, order picking and a commission on sales, partner companies take care of marketing, catering concepts. and the creation of recipes.
The Streeters said if other dining establishments hadn’t been so lucky Vista had survived fairly well last year as they already had drive-thru, delivery traffic picked up and there was a large push for local shopping in the early days of the pandemic.
“The big picture, as I’m looking at it, as a percentage of sales right now, it’s not that big of a deal, but it’s definitely something we don’t normally do,” Andy said. “It would all be lost sales, and as that increases, it will become a bigger part. I think the delivery will continue to grow. “
He said COVID-19 had sped up delivery activities by several years, which Brad agreed with.
“People in my age group, we don’t get delivery very often, but with COVID, they figured out how to order online,” Brad said. “… You learn how because you had to learn, and then these people are going to keep on (doing it).”
The Streeters pointed to other ways the concepts of the industry have evolved, both as a result of the pandemic and otherwise.
At Flagstop Resort and RV Park in Milford, a group of local restaurateurs formed a culinary collective earlier this year and opened a shared kitchen, allowing each owner to operate their business on a different night of the week. Depending on the day, it can serve anything from barbecue to crushed ice and Puerto Rican cuisine to soul food. Taco Lucha and So Long Saloon in Aggieville have also shared a kitchen for years.
Additionally, the Streeters said many places realize how expensive dining room maintenance is, so some have remained closed to this day, or restaurants might choose to downsize them. to come up. Others might choose to operate an establishment for ghost kitchens only.
As for Vista, Andy said he would assess the pros and cons of continuing to serve, or even add to, their virtual restaurant offerings in the coming months.
“There are a lot of different things that come into play, but in the end, with the time we put into it, (we’ll see) is it really worth what we’re doing?” Said Andy. “It’s cool, but at the end of the day, how can we take better care of customers and our employees? … We have always tried to provide the best possible quality and the best possible price for people, and if we can add one while taking care of everyone appropriately, then we will.