What is a Dark Kitchen? Benefits and How they Work

Mar 29, 2021

understanding a dark kitchen, picture of man in a dark kitchen

If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, you know there’s nothing “dark” about it. The bright lights, steaming stove, and clattering dishes make most kitchen spaces anything but gloomy. Dark kitchens are not literally dark, it is a figurative description of a restaurant kitchen, except with one key difference— no customers seated on the other side of the serving hatch. In fact, there’s no brick-and-mortar restaurant, simply a commercial kitchen space whipping up dishes for delivery only.

What is a Dark Kitchen, exactly?

Dark kitchens have different names like virtual restaurants or ghost kitchens. Some people even refer to them as shadow kitchens or commissary kitchens, although there are differences in which model they adopt and how they operate. Yeah, we know, it can be a little confusing! 

The rise of the dark kitchen is a relatively new concept in the restaurant industry and as it grows, so do the names. But, regardless of what you call this delivery-only restaurant, the way it works is simple. 

The food entrepreneur rents a kitchen space, cooks up the food, and hands it off to delivery drivers. In minutes, the hungry customers enjoy the food in the comfort of their homes.

Dark Kitchen Benefits

With any new food venture, there are going to be pros and cons. But with the dark kitchen concept, the benefits are something to marinate over (we do love a little chef humor).

Reduced Operating Cost

From a fine-dining establishment to a food truck, any restaurant is always looking for avenues to reduce costs. With a ghost restaurant the overhead is much lower. 

The lack of a dining room means no investment in chairs, tables, and other dining necessities. The cost of labor is lower as well. The only salaries you need to pay are the back-of-the-house and delivery staff. All you need is a kitchen, and you’re ready to go. Now, doesn’t that sound great?! 

Lower Rental Prices

Traditional restaurants pay a premium for dining space. If you want to be near foot traffic or easily accessible, the rental cost will be higher. Dark kitchens can rent facilities off the beaten track or in less trendy areas. 

Dark kitchens may also be part of a larger commercial space divided into smaller kitchens, further reducing the monthly rent.

Launch Overnight 

It can take months before a new restaurant brand is ready to launch, while dark kitchens can come to life in a few weeks. You don’t have to remodel or design a super functional dining room with killer ambiance. 

All you need is a kitchen space, access to customers, and a sound food delivery system in place. Dark kitchens are simple and easy to get started.

Expansion Opportunities

Food businesses wanting to expand into different markets or locations can easily accomplish this as a dark kitchen. Delivery-only brands aren’t tied to one site. They have a more extensive geographical base and can deliver food to many different areas within a city. 

Also, starting a dark kitchen in a new area or city is easier as well. The costs of opening a new dark kitchen location are much lower than opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Multiple Cuisines

Traditional restaurants usually only sell one type of cuisine, but with dark kitchens, the sky’s the limit. Say, for example, you want your food preparation to entail creamy custards and Chinese food, you can do it. Or if you wish to expand into fish tacos, no problem. You get the idea. 

Some dark kitchen restaurants cook multiple brands under one roof for tons of different dishes. Plus, numerous cuisines can also help save on food waste and boost profits. You’re saving the planet in the process. 

Higher profits

Who doesn’t like making more of the green stuff? Dark kitchens have minimal startups costs, lower overhead costs and unlimited growth potential. So, this results in higher profits. 

You don’t have to pay for an expensive physical location or a large staff. All of which result in more money in the bank.

Dark Kitchen Challenges

Okay, the dark kitchen delivery model definitely has some unbeatable advantages. But, like any good idea, there are some challenges to overcome.

Limited Customer Interaction

For a delivery only kitchen, customer interaction is super limited. In a regular restaurant, you get a lot of face time, you can build relationships and repeat customers. Regulars are your bread and butter, if you will. 

With dark kitchens, the direct contact comes from a delivery driver. So, make sure your delivery staff are trained to truly represent your brand. They need to care as much as you do about customer service. 

Competitive Market

The dark kitchen market is competitive, but you’re also reliant on online marketing or the delivery platform for promotion. You need to have a marketing strategy put in place and know how to reach tech-savvy customers. A strong business incubator program like ShiftPixy Labs will provide the marketing guidance and tech stack to overcome this hurdle.

Must Use Technology

Virtual kitchens usually use a third-party delivery app to get their orders out. But most online delivery apps, such as Uber Eats, charge massive commissions. That’s not good for your bottom line. On top of this their drivers don’t represent your brand or care about your customers. 

The reality is that you need the technology in the cloud kitchen business model. The answer is to choose native delivery and a turnkey solution such as ShiftPixy for all your tech needs. 

Dark kitchens in the food industry are here to stay. The benefits and how they work are simple, yet like any grand plan they do need care and sweet cultivation.