Dark kitchens, explained!

Dark kitchens: the good, the bad and the ugly

If you wanted to expand your restaurant into new areas several years ago, you had to spend time and money opening up new premises and training up staff.

Now the process is a lot simpler and cost-effective. All you have to do is open up a dark kitchen.

Dark kitchens have escalated in popularity recently, with them now accounting for nearly a third of food delivery sales in the UK.

Join us as we look at why dark kitchens have become popular over the last few years, the benefits of using them, and how you can rent one for your business.

What is a dark kitchen?

Also known as a ghost kitchen, cloud kitchen or virtual kitchen, a dark kitchen is a delivery-only commercial kitchen.

Rather than cooking food at a restaurant, you can purchase or rent a dark kitchen to make your restaurant standard food in.

You can then sell your food on delivery apps like Just Eat, Deliveroo or Uber Eats. Alternatively, you can promote your food delivery service on your own eCommerce platform.

Why have dark kitchens become popular?

More and more people are ordering food for delivery rather than eating out. This has been exacerbated by lockdown and the forced closure of restaurants. However, even before the pandemic, delivery orders were on the rise.

According to a Gallup poll, 72% of customers order food because they do not want to leave their homes, with 41% wanting to avoid bad weather. People are less keen to dress up and go out to eat at a restaurant, but they don’t want to have to cook either!

Delivery apps have been leading the charge on dark kitchens, with Deliveroo at the forefront. The company launched ‘Deliveroo Editions’ in 2017, where they rented out dark kitchens to promising restaurants that wanted to improve their delivery credentials. Deliveroo currently has several dark kitchens across eight London locations.

What are the benefits of using a dark kitchen?

Whether you already own a successful restaurant or are an entrepreneur wanting to start a new food-based business, there are several benefits to opening a dark kitchen. These include:

  • There are reduced costs. With a dark kitchen, you do not have overheads including restaurant expenses, decorating costs or wages for service staff. This makes dark kitchens an excellent option for new startups that may have low budgets
  • It’s easier to get set up. It takes time to find the perfect restaurant space, hire staff and purchase kitchen equipment. Many dark kitchens come pre-equipped, meaning that you can get started straight away
  • You can scale up your business efficiently. If you have a restaurant but not enough kitchen space to offer delivery, a dark kitchen can help you grow. It also means that you can provide delivery services to a broader geographical area
  • You can keep your restaurant and delivery separate. You may not want delivery staff coming in and out of your restaurant, or customers standing around that are waiting to collect food. A dark kitchen will enable you to keep the two parts of your business running separately
  • There is the ability to create multiple brands. Let’s say you want to serve both Mexican food and sushi. The two concepts may not be able to be sold in one restaurant, but with a dark kitchen, there is nothing to stop you making both foods under one roof. Dark kitchens also make it easier to experiment with new food, menus and concepts

Where can I get a dark kitchen from and how much do they cost?

If you are looking for a dark kitchen space in London, you are in luck. Several companies provide spaces for businesses looking to expand.

Some of these companies include:

  • Kitchup
  • Dephna
  • Foodstars
  • Karma Kitchen – one thing we like about Karma Kitchen is that you can rent a kitchen for a specific day or time, meaning you only pay for the time you use it

All kitchens come fully equipped, meaning that you can get started straight away. There is also the option to check out a dark kitchen before you commit, meaning you can make sure that it is the perfect space for your requirements.

Prices vary depending on kitchen size and location. The larger and more central the dark kitchen, the more expensive rental will be. We’ve found that costs generally vary between £1,000 and £3,000 a month. This typically includes all utility bills and rates; however it is wise to check the fine print before signing any contracts.

One thing to bear in mind is that you may be locked into a 12-month contract with many of these companies. This means that you need to be able to commit to the idea of a dark kitchen.

Some businesses do provide more short-term rental though, which is worth considering if you want to trial your concept before you sign a long-term contract.

If you are invested in the idea of a dark kitchen, you can also buy and furnish your own space. This is a more expensive initial investment than renting, but if you are in it for the long-term, then it will work out as a cheaper option. You can rent your space out to other businesses for additional income too.

In conclusion

Dark kitchens are growing in popularity and can be found in numerous locations – from industrial estates and empty retail spaces… all the way through to shipping containers!

Although dark kitchens are a great way to grow your business, there are a few things you need to be aware of.

Marketing and branding is the key, you’ll need to work hard to bring in the orders and advertise to encourage people to try your food.

You also need to ensure that the quality of the food you create is top-notch. Some customers are willing to accept average-tasting food if the ambience in a restaurant is excellent, but with a dark kitchen, you have nowhere to hide.

Will you be considering dark kitchens as part of your operational strategy in 2021?


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