CHARLOTTE — Ghost kitchens are a growing niche in Charlotte’s culinary scene as the pandemic continues to spur innovation.
This business model sees chefs working in a third-party commercial kitchen space — or virtual kitchens — shared by multiple concepts. Some ghost kitchens are dug into existing restaurants, where a new idea is tested to gain traction. National chains are testing simplified menus in some cases, seeking to improve their results.
The pandemic has limited indoor dining capacity and prompted restaurateurs to get creative. Take-out and delivery are at the forefront of these movements, reducing property and other overhead costs.
“When you look at what constitutes a restaurant in America today, that definition is changing rapidly,” says Hudson Riehlesenior vice president for research at the National Restaurant Association.
Falling capital costs are making shadow kitchens the new low-cost entry point into the restaurant industry.
“It’s a long-term trend. It’s not a fad,” says Riehle. “It’s basically a new business model.”
Innovation is driven by sustained and rising food and labor costs. The ghost kitchens’ lack of on-site catering makes it possible to focus on specific menu items. Consumers have become accustomed to ordering from establishments they have never visited in person.
“These new models can achieve higher pre-tax profit margins,” he says.
It is also focused on consumer convenience. Digital control has improved these offers and reduced consumer hesitation. Digital orders now make up 20% of restaurant orders, up from 5% before the pandemic.
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