Why restaurants give way to dark kitchens

Why restaurants give way to dark kitchens
Photo: Shutterstock.com

The coronavirus crisis is causing major shifts in the catering and food service market. While many traditional restaurants are closing, 'dark kitchens' are booming. The future is theirs, and here is why.

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880 billion euros

Dark kitchens are restaurants where consumers can not eat: they only cook for take-away and delivery services such as Deliveroo, Takeaway or Uber Eats. Consumers are becoming more and more familiar with the phenomenon, as they have ordered meals more often during the lockdowns in recent months. Analysts therefore expect strong growth for this sector.

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A?Euromonitor study found out that sales of home-delivered meals have more than doubled between?2014 and?2019, and says that more than half of the world's population is already comfortable with ordering meals from a restaurant that you can not physically visit. The total turnover of this industry could amount to a trillion dollars (880?billion euros) by?2030, the study predicts.

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More cost effective

The big advantage of a dark kitchen is that it just costs less to operate, compared to a 'real' restaurant. That is largely because of lower staffing and real estate costs, Euromonitor's Michael Schaefer told Restaurant Dive. He gives a clear example: almost two thirds of the price of a Starbucks Latte goes to rent and staff.

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Moreover, in such kitchens you can partly automate production: within five to ten years it will be possible to prepare dishes such as pizza or ramen automatically, which will result in higher speed and even lower production costs. The British branch of McDonald's and American chain Chick-fil-A are testing the potential of dark kitchens as well, and the concept also offers opportunities for food brands to go straight to its consumers.

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Early days

Dark kitchens have already been widely accepted in China, which leads the way with more than 7,500 such kitchens already in operation. The market is also developing rapidly in India (3,500) and the United States (1,500), but is of (almost) no importance yet in the Low Countries. Albert Heijn has done a trial in Amsterdam with a meal service that delivered through Thuisbezorgd.nl and Deliveroo, but it turns out not to be an obvious exercise.

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Casper - after the Dutch term 'spookrestaurant' or 'ghost restaurant' - is the largest player in Belgium: the brainchild of entrepreneur Peter Van Praet currently has branches in Ghent and Antwerp and wants to expand quickly to other cities. The company recently concluded a cooperation agreement with a local tv-chef to put a dozen of her healthy dishes on the menu.

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