Ghost kitchens have been on an upswing for the last few years. And it’s a trend that’s not expected to slow anytime soon.
While ghost kitchens can help address the high cost of opening and running restaurants, boost efficiency, and improve consistency in food preparation, they’re not a one-size-fits-all operation. Well-designed and operated ghost kitchens require careful planning to get the most out of them.
The state of ghost kitchens
The term “ghost kitchens” is a kind of catch-all used to describe commercial kitchens that are not paired with a traditional dining area. Ghost kitchens typically operate either as the home of a digital-only dining brand or a commissary-style hub for brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Ghost kitchens also allow entrepreneurs to start a new restaurant with a lower investment than traditional restaurants or offer existing restaurateurs a way to increase service and revenue without introducing full locations.
The Covid-19 pandemic fueled a remarkable growth in this relatively novel approach to commercial foodservice. Already a $43 billion market in 2019, ghost kitchens are expected to grow to more than $1 trillion globally by 2030.
Regardless of the specific setup, ghost kitchens are on the rise because they cater to the public demand for delivery and takeout meals.
But not all ghost kitchens are created equal. How a kitchen is designed, equipped and operated are critical to supporting a successful operation. To get the most out of a ghost kitchen, consider these three options for boosting efficiency.
1. Take a scalpel to the menu
The Pareto principle holds that 80% of profits come from 20% of the menu. In that case, a nimble operation like a ghost kitchen is a great place to experiment with streamlined menus.
Concentrate on a few specialty items that can be perfected for your target audience. Be sure to prioritize menu items that travel well without losing their quality and appeal.
When the name of the game is volume rather than diversity, ensure your equipment can handle large amounts of the same products. Focus on the pieces and processes that promote efficient, high-volume throughput.
2. Get creative in equipment placement
Since ghost kitchen space is not consumer-facing, it can be designed with nothing but function in mind. The principal factors when it comes to design should be efficiency and accuracy.
Reconsider how things “have always been done” in kitchens to design a solution that prioritizes functionality. Put equipment where it makes the most sense for your processes, not where it’ll fit around dining room needs, look better or support any other concerns of traditional restaurants.
For instance, placing as much prep equipment as possible within a workspace that’s roughly equivalent to the arm’s reach of workers increases efficiency by keeping all the work in one place. Every excess step taken, every second lost matters when it comes to optimizing efficiency, particularly at the scale of high-volume operations.
3. Keep more food handy to reduce steps taken
Equipment being close at hand doesn’t help much if workers must continually leave their station to retrieve ingredients or refill food for prepping.
Consider how to maximize food storage space in and around the workstation. Storage at various heights — using undercounter carts or vertical racks, for instance — can dramatically increase the available holding space without taking up valuable footprint.
And of course, food safety must be a critical consideration when introducing additional food and ingredient storage.
Cousins Subs’ ghost kitchens fulfilled both of the last two approaches by putting its freezers and coolers close to the production area.
“Sometimes in the stores, these get stuck in the back because that’s the only space they will fit,” Joe Ferguson, vice president of development at Cousins, said to Foodservice Equipment & Supplies. “We put them right next to where we need the product. That minimizes the number of steps needed for staff to work.”
Operations can pursue the same efficiency goals at the workstation scale with equipment that creates an all-in-one workspace.
The food prep specialists at AyrKing continue to develop products that support this kind of efficiency — like the new ice bath drawer guide. This simple-to-install accessory helps operators better utilize existing space on AyrKing’s popular Breader Blender Sifter (BBS) breading stations.
The drawer guide makes it possible to add a drawer to what is currently an open shelf on many BBS models, bringing more functionality to the same footprint.
Use the easy-to-access drawer to increase ingredient storage capacity or add an ice bath for safe and convenient protein holding. Boost throughput by having more raw ingredients at hand or add a second product to an existing workstation.
Without the drawer guide, the useability of the shelf space may be limited by reach or the ability of the worker to lift heavy pans of food.