Retail

US Foods Helps Restaurants Start Ghost Kitchens

US Foods Holding Corp., an Illinois-based food service distributor, has announced an initiative to help restaurant operators launch ghost kitchens.

With the new US Foods Ghost Kitchens program, the company said, customers can access resources to streamline the process of starting a ghost kitchen. Included is technology to choose menu options, a step-by-step guide to making decisions, marketing help and consultations with US Foods staff. US Foods did not provide the cost of the services.

Ghost kitchens, also referred to as dark or virtual kitchens, are professional food preparation and cooking facilities established to create delivery-only meals. The concept has emerged to capitalize on the rising popularity of takeout orders in the face of COVID-19.

“The Ghost Kitchens program was developed in response to growing interest among our customers, but we’ve also been tracking the trend, and ghost kitchens are projected to reach a $1 trillion global market by 2030, making them an attractive concept for operators even after dine-in restrictions are lifted,” said Jim Osborne, senior vice president of customer strategy and innovation at US Foods, in a statement.

Osborne also said because ghost kitchens are a departure from traditional brick-and-mortar eateries, independent owners may need help to start a new venture.

With dine-in restrictions due to COVID-19, most restaurants are experiencing challenges with dining room capacity. As a result, 75 percent of restaurant operators consider takeout to be their best growth opportunity, the company said.

In June, Legendary Restaurant Group Owner Chris Damian told PYMNTS despite knowing the impact the pandemic was coming in March, no one could do anything to stop it.

“I saw this was going to be really bad,” Damian said, adding that he remembered desperately trying to explain that to a third-party contractor earlier this year, without much success. “I told that person, I said, ‘This is going to be bad. And what I heard was ‘Oh, you’re crazy … this is going to be nothing.’ ”

Charlie Yi, CEO of sushi restaurant and ghost kitchen Zoku Sushi, told PYMNTS that digital-only kitchens have lower costs because staff and real estate expenses are lower.

“The billion-dollar question [is] how do you seize … the opportunities and advantages of ghost kitchens?” Yi said, noting it is a very different way of doing business in the restaurant realm. “When you start as a digital native — when you didn’t build your brand in the traditional way as a restaurant — how do you cope with that?”

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