Future of ghost kitchens not just smarter, it’s tastier. www.fastcasual.com. (2021, September 23). Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.fastcasual.com/blogs/future-of-ghost-kitchens-not-just-smarter-its-tastier/.
When YouTube sensation Jimmy Donaldson, better known as “MrBeast” to his millions of followers, opened his MrBeast Burger fast food chain, a key ingredient was not on the menu: actual, physical locations.
Instead of building his own brick and mortar restaurants around the country (a daunting prospect even for seasoned restaurateurs), he chose an increasingly popular avenue for his business — a virtual, delivery-only brand that leverages a network of more than 900 existing commercial kitchens and staff to create and distribute his food.
From MrBeast Burger to Mariah’s Cookies (yes, even musical legend Mariah Carey has gotten in on the virtual brand action with her own line of cookies delivered to your door), celebrities represent the face of virtual brands.
What’s fueling it all is a fast-growing roster of startups and entrenched players in the hospitality business who are hungry for innovation. All of them are looking to transform “ghost kitchens” that are devoid of activity outside of traditional dining hours into bustling, 24/7 opportunities for flavor and additional revenue.
At one end of the spectrum, companies like Dine Brands, the owner of Applebee’s and IHOP, is integrating its Cosmic Wings virtual brand into existing Applebee’s locations. Other players, such as Virtual Dining Concepts, are helping restaurant owners expand into delivery-only food services without impacting their existing operations.
The net result is nothing short of a monumental shift in the food service industry. Instead of simply being a place to eat food, these ghost kitchens, just like behind-the-scenes ghostwriters, can quickly pivot and adapt their voice to changing needs — all without the massive cost and staffing overhead of traditional restaurant models. For example, hospitality company SBE owns C3 (Creating Culinary Communities), which it describes as the world’s fastest growing omnichannel food technology platform. It operates more than 250 digital brand locations across the U.S. offering everything from burgers and tacos to Southern-fried chicken and plant-based menus.
Of particular concern these days is the well-documented labor shortage throughout the restaurant industry. Despite a 10 percent increase in hourly wages year over year, the labor gap is still at record highs, putting a strain on restaurant owners who are already struggling to stay afloat. Take the pizza industry for example. Pizza is the No. 1 most popular food in the U.S. and on any given day, about 13% (or 1 in 8) of Americans eat pizza — this is a $46 billion industry! The new robotic Piestro, makes high-quality, artisanal pizzas and all but eliminates the retail footprint and associated labor costs that come with them. In light of the pandemic, Piestro has begun working with existing pizza brands to help create brand-specific machines that deliver the same quality pizzas that their customers know and love in more convenient locations. Restaurants will also be able to incorporate the machines into existing kitchens to produce pizza 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
What I love about this transformation is how virtual brands are enabling new types of experimentation in the business of flavor — just like the world’s best chefs. True food innovators can now try hundreds of variations on a food item and see what works without risking everything. Through technology, anything is possible and I think it’s clear that the approach to running and operating a restaurant is changing fast.
What are you hungering for with the future of virtual brands?