Even if you haven’t heard the term, you’re likely somewhat familiar with the concept of a ghost kitchen. A ghost kitchen is an off-premise restaurant facility that prepares food for pickup and delivery only. It might be operated by a single restaurant or could be shared by multiple restaurants that are part of a restaurant group or partner together to share the space. While they weren’t fully formed out of pandemic-related necessity, the trend grew at a faster rate than it probably would have due to indoor dining restrictions.
During the pandemic, popular restaurants with existing brick-and-mortar locations and recognizable names are launching their own ghost kitchens, giving them a chance to create different cuisine than their original restaurants, that is often tailored to be more delivery-friendly.
Ghost kitchens — also known as dark kitchens or virtual kitchens — allow restaurants to operate at a lower operational cost. But, what they save in server wages is required in marketing costs to raise awareness.
However, recently, after seeing the cost benefits of an online-only ordering business, some businesses are quietly popping up to take advantage of the format in a wave of restaurants referred to as graveyard kitchens.
What is a graveyard kitchen?
A graveyard kitchen is similar to a ghost kitchen, except it takes advantage of online ordering hubs to advertise their cuisine under multiple different names, increasing the exposure and chances of securing orders. This is different from a legitimate ghost kitchen that has a unique concept and is pivoted to provide food for customers when indoor dining wasn’t an option.
These businesses tend to be more focused on getting as many orders as possible instead of building a steady customer base through quality food and a good experience.
How ghost kitchens can compete with graveyard kitchens
For consumers, telling the difference between a legitimate restaurant and graveyard kitchen can be difficult. One of the main vehicles for customers ordering from digital-first ghost kitchens is through third-party delivery apps like DoorDash and GrubHub. By flooding third-party delivery apps with graveyard kitchens that all look like unique restaurants, these establishments are distracting customers from legitimate small businesses just looking to reach a wider audience of customers. It can be frustrating, but there are measures ghost kitchens and other restaurants can take to compete with graveyard kitchens.
Control orders and delivery: Creating your own website where customers can order directly from your business, instead of through a third party delivery service, is one of the best ways to cut through the noise on other ordering hubs. On-demand Delivery dispatches couriers through third-party apps, but allows you to stand alone and curate the online ordering experience for your customers.
Encourage reviews: Customer reviews are one of your most effective marketing tools. Reviews on your website and on third-party sites help legitimize your business since people tend to trust the word of other patrons and seek out other people’s approval and feedback when deciding what restaurants to dine with. Encourage satisfied customers to give their feedback on review websites or through customer feedback provided directly on digital receipts.
Lean into being local: Get involved with your local community and help your neighbors get familiar with your business. Join your local chamber of commerce or neighborhood groups. Look for local online community forums on Nextdoor, Facebook, or other sites. Do what you can to be an active and trusted member of your surrounding area so that people recognize your business when they’re deciding where to order from.
Leverage social media: Social media is a powerful marketing tool and a great way to raise awareness of your business and connect with your community. Instagram provides an opportunity to connect with your audience and build a strong community of people who support your business. “Social media is where people go to talk and be social. Just having an open dialogue with your fans, your customers, is really important,” says Victoria Roedel, partner at Ice Cream Social.
Think outside of the (delivery) box: Host events, run promotions, or partner with other local businesses. Get creative about ways to familiarize customers with your business so that when they’re searching for a dinner spot, they won’t be swayed by other businesses that are just trying to get their orders instead of providing them with a memorable experience.
Navigating the world of online ordering can be difficult, especially with the large influx of businesses going digital during the pandemic. It can be frustrating to see graveyard kitchens popping up in droves on ordering platforms, but by focusing on marketing your business and providing a quality customer experience, you can earn a dependable and loyal customer base.