Restaurants Leverage Hospitality Experience as ‘Dark Kitchen’ Trend Grows

It was once a challenge for restaurants to take ownership of their online presence, putting many at the mercy of third-party aggregators or having to foot hefty bills for ads and placements.

But thanks to tools like Google Business Profiles and Facebook Business Pages, restaurants can now take charge of their own online promotion and customer acquisition, Nezar Kadhem, founder and CEO at UAE-based restaurant platform Eat App, told PYMNTS in an interview.

As a hospitality business, “you no longer have to rely on an aggregator to promote you, now you can take that control into your hands […] to become visible both on Google and on the Facebook ecosystem,” Kadhem said, adding that “we’re seeing a huge trend [of] restaurants taking marketing into their own hands and trying to acquire customers directly.”

To further support hospitality businesses in attracting customers, Eat App has built a reservation booking system that connects restaurants to all the different online platforms through which diners discover new restaurants. Through this, businesses can “build a spiderweb that enables these diners to not only discover the restaurant but also provide their phone number, their email [address or] their name,” Kadhem explained.

Moreover, with Eat App, consumers can experience a more frictionless journey from discovery to reservation, he added, whether they started out on TripAdvisor, which is popular in tourist destinations, Instagram, Careem or any of the other 11 booking channels the software integrates with.

Beyond acquiring new customers, the app can also help businesses improve their return rates, which, according to Kadhem, averages about 18% across the restaurant industry, irrespective of location or size.

Referring to retention as a lagging indicator, he said that issue is usually solved once other key performance measures are met: “If your guest experience is great, both from a digital footprint standpoint as well as at the restaurant, generally it solves your retention problems.”

And with the right data, including the contact information gathered during the first booking, email automations can be a powerful tool for winning repeat customers, Kadhem noted.

Restaurants vs Dark Kitchens

Available in 60 countries, the Eat App solution offers its founder global visibility on the needs of businesses in the hospitality sector. And according to Kadhem, there is a common thread: “They all want to increase footfall. They want to run a more successful restaurant and they want to keep bringing guests back.”

Achieving this when operating across various regions with different languages and payment systems can be challenging, but rather than adding new languages and local integrations, Kadhem said the firm follows the business. “Where we have the concentration of customers, we will build the widgets and the front-end solutions to support those languages,” he stated.

The same goes for payments, too. Thanks to Eat App’s chosen payment partners, which include Stripe and, restaurants have the option to choose a payment method that suits their customer base.

“As long as the restaurants can set up a Stripe account or a Checkout account, [they can] leverage those payment gateways to hold the credit cards or charge customers,” he explained.

When it comes to emerging trends in the food service sector, Kadhem pointed to the growing prominence of dark kitchens, which he said challenges the unit economics of food delivery in general.

What he does not anticipate happening, however, is a scenario where restaurants are having to compete with these cloud kitchens, because each model has unique benefits to offer customers.

“What restaurants are designed to do is to greet customers and provide a phenomenal hospitality experience and great guest experience,” he noted. Ghost kitchens on the other hand, “are going to deliver on healthy unit economics, food delivery at the most reasonable cost at the highest quality.”

For all PYMNTS EMEA coverage, subscribe to the daily EMEA Newsletter.