How to Succeed in Delivery

What is a ghost kitchen?

May 13, 2021

If you work in the restaurant industry, you’ve likely heard a lot about a new concept called “ghost kitchens” 

As with any restaurant innovation, the ghost kitchen trend is evolving rapidly and growing at an accelerated rate. In this article, we’ll dig into everything you need to know about ghost kitchens and answer key questions like what is a ghost kitchen? Where did the concept of ghost or dark kitchens come from? What are the different types of ghost kitchens? What are the benefits of a restaurant opening a ghost kitchen? What could the future of ghost kitchens, and the restaurant industry now that ghost kitchens are a part of it, look like? 

what is a ghost kitchen

What is a ghost kitchen?

A ghost kitchen, also known as a dark kitchen, virtual kitchen, shadow kitchen or commissary kitchen, is a food preparation facility that prepares meals for delivery orders. You can think of a ghost kitchen as a restaurant without dine-in seating or a commercial kitchen optimized for fulfilling delivery orders. A ghost kitchen can be used to launch an entirely new restaurant, or to increase an existing restaurant’s reach by creating new “virtual storefronts” in different areas. A restaurant with a single brick & mortar location is likely only delivering within a 5-mile radius of their physical restaurant. If they were to create a ghost kitchen outside of that 5-mile radius, they could begin delivering to an entirely new customer base. Further, many restaurants create ghost kitchens in high order volume areas with a significant amount of delivery demand – resulting in increased reach, orders, and sales. 

The rise of ghost kitchens

There are multiple factors that have contributed to the rise of ghost kitchens – from economic shifts, to changes in consumer behavior, to new forms of employment, rising real estate prices, and unforeseen cultural circumstances. Understanding where ghost kitchens came from requires us to consider that...

  1. Restaurants run on low margins, hiring and supervising employees is costly and constant.
  2. The rise of the smartphone and the importance of convenience has shifted consumer behavior towards digital ordering and delivery – which has grown 300% faster than dine-in traffic since 2014. 
  3. The idea of traditional employment has fallen over the past ~decade, as the gig-economy has grown rapidly. Today, 40% of millennials are gig-workers or freelancers, and 40% of companies around the world hire gig workers. This creates a pool of potential drivers for apps like Uber Eats, and a pool of potential back-of-house staff to work in ghost kitchens. 
  4. Opening a brick and mortar restaurant in 2021 requires a lot of cash. According to a survey conducted by, opening a traditional restaurant costs anywhere from $175,500 to $750,000. As the price of commercial real estate continues to increase, removing the need to rent out a large physical space with dine-in seating looks more and more appealing to restaurateurs. 

The final condition that can’t be ignored is the impact of COVID-19 on both consumer behavior and restaurants. As stay-at-home orders went into place around the globe, customers began ordering delivery more frequently than ever. And with reduced capacity and closures, delivery became the restaurant industry’s only means of survival. While restrictions continue to change and lift, delivery is still expected to grow at an accelerated rate over the next decade.

The combination of these cultural shifts and challenges opened the opportunity for innovation in many sectors, perhaps most notably the restaurant industry, and the trend of ghost kitchens caught steam. Fast. 

food delivery growth pandemic

What are the different types of ghost kitchens?

Now that we know what ghost kitchens are and where they came from, let’s look at the different types of ghost kitchens

1. Incubator or pop-up kitchens. An incubator or pop-up ghost kitchen is a space that’s attached to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but is used solely to fulfill online and delivery orders. Incubator kitchens allow traditional restaurants to try new concepts, minimize chaos in the kitchen, and create new revenue streams. 

what is an incubator kitchen

2. Commissary or shared kitchens. Commissary kitchens are commercial spaces shared by multiple restaurants. They come equipped with all the appliances and cookware you need to fulfill online orders, and don’t require a massive down payment or lifelong contract. Commissary kitchens are essentially kitchens available for rent to any restaurant or food entrepreneur. 

3. Kitchen pods. A kitchen pod is the most bare-bones type of ghost kitchen. Generally run out of shipping containers, kitchen pods are often set-up in parking lots behind restaurants, making them easily transportable but small and uncomfortable to work in. 

The benefits of running a ghost kitchen

Save money… lots of money

Let’s start with one of the main benefits: ghost kitchens are more cost-effective than brick-and-mortar restaurants. These establishments not only allow you to get started with little capital investment (which means less risk), but they’re also a great way to cut down on operational costs. With no front-of-house labour, your team will be smaller, you won’t need as much space and you can say goodbye to decorations and most of the furniture. Thanks to these minimized costs, restaurants are able to maximize their profits.

No need for premium locations

Sure, you’ve been ordering food every Friday from the same Greek restaurant for months and you feel like you know it inside-out… but do you actually know where it is? Ghost kitchens are not meant to receive guests, so you’ll have more freedom when choosing a location. Even though you’ll need to take into account the delivery radio to place your kitchen in a hotspot, you can take advantage of under-used locations. This possibility to be in a less popular space will not only help you with finding a place faster and cutting down your costs, it’s also better for riders to collect orders.

Freedom to adapt and evolve

The beauty of only “existing” online is that you can easily change and adapt your concept. You launched a burger brand and it’s not performing as expected? No worries, it can be a hot dog shop by tomorrow. Do you want to partake in the popularity craze of Japanese sandwiches? You can, once you push your new menu live with a single click. This increased speed to market is great for those restaurateurs that are willing to experiment. Plus, you can even run multiple virtual brands to optimize your business from the same ghost kitchen.

Simplified logistics

If you’ve been juggling with both in-house and delivery orders, you already know how difficult it can be. By focusing on delivery only, ghost kitchens are able to prep more orders and get them to their customers in less time. Plus, if you work with a delivery management solution like Otter, all your online orders are streamlined onto one single tablet, regardless of which delivery app the customer is using. This means less hassle and more time to focus on what actually matters: the food.

simplify restaurant operations

The challenges of running a ghost kitchen

Gaining visibility can be difficult without a physical footprint

Unless your restaurant is already well known, you’ll have to work hard on developing your brand. Forget about walk-in traffic: with no physical location, you’ll be forced to compete in a very crowded digital marketplace. Our advice? Customer reviews are key. If you still don’t have a strategy for reviews in place, this is the time to work on it in order to increase your restaurant’s credibility and boost your online positioning.

Maintaining and nurturing the customer relationship can be challenging

A brick and mortar restaurant is a place to offer experiences… but how do you offer a good experience at a distance? With almost 0 customer interaction, you have to get creative in order to build customer loyalty. Little details will be key for your customers to reorder and talk about your restaurant with friends or on social media.

Third-party delivery apps dictate the game

Running a ghost kitchen means that delivery platforms are your main sales channel. Even though apps like Uber Eats, Skip the Dishes and Grubhub are great at getting you in front of a large audience and spreading the word, you will be depending on third parties and giving away some of your control. Plus, you’ll need to learn how to navigate each platform in order to boost your brand visibility and achieve better search results.

how to sign up for uber eats

You don’t necessarily own your reputation in the same way a traditional restaurant would

The timing of online orders is crucial, but not really on your hands once the food has left the kitchen: will the driver pick up the order on time? How fast will it be delivered? Will the items arrive as intended? Like it or not, your reputation will be affected by the service of third-party delivery apps and, sadly, a bad experience with them will reflect on your restaurant. In order to take control, it’s a must to be on top of your online orders and numbers. By partnering with a solution like Otter, you can seamlessly sync all your orders in one place to eliminate errors in fulfillment and get valuable metrics on your business like missed orders, lost revenue, availability breakdown and more.

The future of ghost kitchens

It’s clear that ghost kitchens offer many advantages, but are they actually here to stay? According to a new report by Rockville Research, the global food delivery market “is estimated to be valued at US$ 254 billion in the year 2028, growing at a CAGR of 10.9% in the period 2021 to 2028”. Considering that delivery is expected to keep growing faster than dine-in, ghost kitchens remain a great choice for restaurateurs to future proof their businesses.

As long as ghost kitchens present a lower cost alternative to operating a traditional restaurant, there will be space in the market for them.

If you’re a traditional or ghost restaurant looking to optimize and manage your delivery operations, complete the form below to get started today!

Latest blog posts

Sometimes you just want a little extra. Extra support. Extra features. Extra everything.
About Otter

Your top questions about Otter, answered

Got questions? We've got answers. In this article, we'll answer the most frequently asked questions about Otter from getting started, to integrating your delivery services and more.

How to Succeed in Delivery

Why you should integrate your restaurant POS with Otter

Learn how Otter’s POS integration capabilities can increase sales and efficiency at your restaurant!

How to Succeed in Delivery

How to Sign Up on Uber Eats for your Restaurant

Do you want to register your restaurant on UberEats? Check out the steps in the following article.

How to Succeed in Delivery

Sustainable restaurants are trending: learn how & why implementing top restaurant sustainability practices matters

Prioritizing sustainability will help your restaurant increase sales and stand out from competitors in a big way. Learn the top 6 sustainability practices you can implement in your restaurant today!

How to Succeed in Delivery

10 review response templates for your restaurant (positive & negative!)

Are you struggling with the best way to respond to your restaurant reviews? After analyzing hundreds of restaurant reviews online, we’ve created 10 powerful review response templates ready to use for

About Otter

How PLNT Burger saves time and money by expanding with the help of Boost

Learn how PLNT Burger was able to save time and increase revenue growth by 31.1% with the help of boost!

How to Succeed in Delivery

From local milk delivery to robots at your doorstep: the history of food delivery

Have you ever wondered about food delivery’s origins? Let’s dive back into the past to learn more about the evolution of takeout and what its history can teach us about the industry today.

About Otter

Introducing Otter's FREE Reports Dashboard Solution

Our new Reports Dashboard will help you know how your restaurant is performing today and how you can get more sales.

About Otter

How Hooters delivers on their bottomline by delivering All-American fun alongside Otter

Learn how Hooters decreased order issues, missed orders and cancellations by an average of 19% resulting in $17,000 in cost savings per month alongside Otter!

Solutions for enterprise customers

For restaurant groups with more than 10 locations, we love getting you up and running as smoothly and quickly as possible. Let us know what you need, and we’ll custom-tailor the right solution for your business. Let’s have a conversation about it.

Talk to someone