‘Ghost kitchens’ have thrived during the pandemic, and allow small food businesses to “play with the big boys” – according to a Bradford academic.
Although the term may not be familiar to most people, there is a chance that if you have ordered take away from a restaurant recently it came from a ghost kitchen.
They are usually “off-site” kitchen facilities that produce the same meals as restaurants or takeaways but do so solely for delivery rather than relying on customers coming in off the street to dine in or pick up their food.
Due to most hospitality businesses shutting at some point during the Covid pandemic, the need to keep food production going while restaurants had to physically shut down led to the rapid increase in ghost kitchens.
Dr Kamran Mahroof is an assistant professor at the University of Bradford and is an expert on supply chains and logistics. He said ghost kitchens mean “small players can rub shoulders with the big boys” – although he doubts the new model will ever fully replace traditional restaurants and takeaways.
The rise of home delivery services like UberEats and Deliveroo have helped facilitate the rise of ghost kitchens.
Dr Mahroof said: “If you have ordered a takeaway recently, it may have come from one of these ghost kitchens.
“It is the same food they cook in the restaurant you know, it uses the same ingredients, the same processes, it is just cooked off-site. The important point to make is: that site can be anywhere.
“Go back 15 years and a small business would have no way of justifying a decision to open a new branch of a restaurant in, say, Glasgow, or Shoreditch, or wherever it might be.
Today, almost everything is review-based, and we have a new delivery infrastructure in place, so it becomes something worth considering.
“This means small players can rub shoulders with the big boys, simply because they can compete and expand, without bearing the brunt of all the overheads. Similarly, it’s good for niche businesses because again, you are basing any expansion on a low-risk model.
“You know your product is liked, because of the reviews, you know there might be customers in other areas, so it’s worth testing the water. There’s also no front of house operation, no downtown rents. You’re just paying for a chef (probably even to relocate some) and a place with some electricity.
“This is not to say the restaurant experience per se will disappear – there will always be a need for that – just that there is now an alternative source of income for hard-pressed small businesses in that sector.
“In this age of convenience, where we will continue to see a surge in customers ordering through such delivery apps, one cannot help but speculate who the customer base really belongs to the delivery firms, or the restaurants themselves?”
This month an application to open a complex of kitchens in Keighley town centre was submitted to Bradford Council.
The proposals would see a storage unit on Russell Street converted into dark kitchens.
Submitted by Jima Associates, the application calls for the unit to be split into six, small kitchen units over two floors.
A decision on the application is expected in early March.