Stephan Leuschner is RATIONAL’s expert for international food service industry and ghost kitchen projects. He is an experienced business consultant and former Executive Chef, and works with restaurants all over the world to structure their kitchens for delivery-only purpose.
RATIONAL is a global supplier of cooking systems to the restaurant and food industry and leader in the German, British and US markets.
Could you tell us briefly what dark/ghost/cloud kitchens are and how they operate?
Dark/ghost/cloud kitchens all operate the same way. They are kitchens that are exclusively designed for food delivery only. What is important to understand, is that most food that you order from Deliveroo, Uber eats or local equivalent do not come from brick-and-mortar restaurants. They operate on a totally different model, based notably on data.
What Deliveroo/Uber Eats have, is a precise knowledge of where and who the consumer is. Thanks to their models, they know if an area is underserved in a particular type of food (i.e. Chinese, sandwich, pizza). And that is when dark kitchen mostly come into play.
What people usually don’t realise when they order food from an app, is that the brand they order can have many names depending on where they order – because delivery specialists adapt it based on their knowledge of the consumers and their food preferences – but they all come from the same place originally.Stephan Leuschner, Director International Key Accounts, RATIONAL
You have big national operators that are prepping, for example Chinese food, at a national level, in their own warehouse. Relying on delivery specialists’ data, they then rent dark kitchen spaces geographically near the consumers, and adapt the menu that will be available in this particular area.
Dark kitchen are not really a place to cook. They are a place to finish, or to dress up an order. Everything is data-driven, and based on the actual time that the courier arrives to pick up the food. A cook in a dark kitchen has five to seven minutes on average to prep the order once the order is received, before the delivery driver arrives and wants to pick up the order. Ideally all preparations are done just in time to keep the food quality as high as possible before pickup. The food still has a way to go of some 10-20 minutes in average after pickup.
How big is this market now and where in the world is this model the biggest? How do you see it evolving in the next few months?
The trend for delivery—and therefore the need for a dedicated space for cooking, especially for delivery—was already a growing trend before Covid, and the trend has been accelerated over the last year.
We estimate today that 10% of the food eaten worldwide is food that has been purchased through delivery. By 2030, we estimate that this number will be up to 30%. So far the consumers’ motivation to buy delivery food is driven by a basic necessity: they buy delivery food because they are hungry. To me this is very different from the motivations behind going to a Michelin star or gastronomic restaurant.
We are heading toward a big split between convenience/delivery food and experience, two restaurants industries almost running in parallel. The entire size of the food industry therefore will be shared, but not necessary grow in general. Some traditional brick-and-mortar operations will definitely lose ground against delivery food in the future.
Where does the beverage list fit in the dark kitchen model?
Well, not very big as you can imagine, and nearly exclusively soft drinks. Alcoholic beverages are mainly value products like beer or simple wine so far.
Through the pandemic, have you seen more gastronomic restaurants using dark or ghost kitchens to add some extra revenue?
Not really, because now gastronomic kitchens are empty, so they don’t really need any additional space, and can just cook for takeaways in their own premises with their own staff.
What gastronomic restaurants—and consequently Fine Wines—have missed is the incredible knowledge and power of the delivery specialists. They know everything about everyone. What could be interesting for higher-end restaurants might not be to use a dark kitchen to cook anything, but to create easily-accessible experience. What if a gourmet chef created a food and wine pairing luxury charcuterie box—no real cooking involved?
Using the dark kitchen operating model and partnering up with the likes of Deliveroo, they could create a standard offer and personalise it in a dark kitchen, with delivery guarantee to the consumers in less than 20 minutes. If restaurants can propose a digital sommelier experience as an extra, guiding you through the wines as you taste them, it would be the best of both convenience and experience world.