With so much of modern life focused around convenience, delivery food is more popular than ever. But did you know that there are restaurants that focus solely on delivery food?
A delivery-only restaurant or “ghost kitchen” is essentially a virtual restaurant with a distinct concept. They take online orders and prepare food that is exclusively available on online-ordering platforms.
We’ve prepared this guide to help equip you with everything you need to know about opening up your very own virtual restaurant.
Why Start a Virtual Kitchen?
With so many advantages to this business model, it’s no wonder that many people are opting to start a virtual kitchen instead of a traditional restaurant. With the growing popularity of delivery, the sales from virtual venues are expected to increase 42% this year and are projected to increase another 25% in the next five years.
To start a virtual restaurant, you must secure a commercial kitchen space and obtain all the same permits as a typical restaurant. However, you only need a kitchen instead of a traditional, full-on restaurant, so you can rent a smaller space or shared kitchen. This can save you a lot of money if you are just starting out.
If you already own an established restaurant but your cooking staff has downtime, you can also start a virtual restaurant out of your existing kitchen. This helps keep your staff busy on slow days and generates extra profit. You can even design your virtual restaurant’s menu based on ingredients you already have for your primary restaurant, which is a great way to keep your food waste down.
There are many new resources for starting a virtual restaurant. One option is to become a fulfillment partner for a company like Nextbite. Nextbite creates delivery-only restaurant concepts with high-quality, chef-inspired menus that are available only through delivery apps.
Nextbite provides full virtual restaurant concepts, including menus, data-driven and trend-based branding, original recipes that consumers are craving, and the technology to operate your virtual restaurant with ease. This is a great, fast, and easy way to start your virtual kitchen – just cook the meals, fulfill the orders, and let the profits come pouring in.
Do You Have a Commercial Kitchen Space?
If you already have a kitchen space, feel free to skip on to the next section. If not, stay tuned.
Preparing to start a virtual restaurant is certainly easier than starting a full-blown restaurant, but there are still some things you will need to do to get things going. (You may want to first read up on how to start a restaurant as a lot of the requirements are the same.) If you’re starting a virtual kitchen without an existing restaurant, here are some things you’ll need to do:
- Rent a commercial kitchen space. Remember: you don’t need a ton of space. If you can, rent a space that only has a kitchen – after all, that’s all you need when you aren’t entertaining customers in person.
- Obtain all necessary permits. If you’re serving food out of a virtual kitchen, you still have to get all necessary permits to operate legally.
- Equipment. Make a list of all the equipment you’ll need to execute your menu, then rent or buy any equipment you don’t already own.
- Staff. You’ll need to hire some employees or work with a business partner to fulfill your orders once they start pouring in. Luckily, staff should be minimal since you won’t be running a full-service restaurant.
You Have A Kitchen, Now What?
Now that you have a commercial kitchen, a cooking team, equipment, and staff, you can get to work creating your virtual restaurant. Concept is your key to success; you need to create a solid brand, complete with branding, menu, and marketing materials.
It’s important to create an exciting concept to help your new virtual restaurant stand out on delivery apps and attract customers. With virtual restaurants, all customers are acquired through digital marketing – you can’t rely on passersby wandering into the restaurant. Your ability to attract customers will depend heavily on how well you can market yourself online.
Develop a Concept
One of the most important ways to stand out online is to create a strong concept. It’s also a fun place to start! Many virtual restaurants stick to one distinct concept, such as serving different types of mac and cheese like Monster Mac, or serving variations of grilled cheeses like The Grilled Cheese Society.
Think about what you want your restaurant’s “thing” to be. When conceptualizing your virtual restaurant, consider the type of food, hours of operation, menu design, logo, and even your color palate with your target customer in mind.
Identify Your Target Customers
You need to know who your target customers are in order to reel them in. If you want to cook healthy foods, then your target customers are health-conscious people, and you’ll likely want to serve fresh foods and operate during morning/daytime hours. Or let’s say you’re near a college; you may want to cater to the late-night party-goers by serving tater tots and milkshakes into the wee hours of the morning. In short: know your audience!
Design Your Menu
As a virtual restaurant, your menu is likely the only thing the customer sees before ordering, followed by specific menu items and their respective descriptions. Therefore, it’s imperative that your menu draw them in with visual appeal.
It’s also important that you have a cohesive menu that makes sense for your brand. Make sure to play to your audience in descriptions when you can – make the food sound so good they can’t help but order. It’s a good idea to give your menu items names that pop and fit your brand.
Create a Digital Marketing Strategy
Marketing a virtual restaurant requires an entirely digital approach, and having a website will legitimize your virtual restaurant. If a customer finds you on a delivery app, then decides to look your restaurant up online, it’s important that you have a website for them to actually find.
This website could be as simple as your logo at the top, photos of the food, a couple of reviews, and the menu. An example of a well-designed website is Firebelly Wings. You can also use your website to market yourself by providing links to your ghost restaurant’s social media profile.
Creating a social media profile for your brand can help boost your visibility. As an online business, you rely on online visibility to attract customers. You can easily create an Instagram account where you can post pictures of your food, see when people post about you, and repost their happy reviews. Voila! Free marketing.
Set Up Your Tech
You will need access to WiFi as well as a tablet or laptop to receive and track orders. Set up a station in your virtual kitchen to serve as an order hub. Once you’ve set up your tech, you’ll have to decide how you are going to receive orders.
The easiest way to get yourself out there and grow a customer base is by using a third-party delivery app. There are several to choose from, so investigate your options thoroughly as the fee for using these apps varies.
Invest in Smart Packaging
As a delivery-only restaurant, it is incredibly important that you properly package food for delivery. You’ve worked hard to make this delicious food! Make sure it arrives to your customer in tip-top shape. After all, no customer wants to receive food that is cold, soggy, or worse – scattered all over the inside of the bag. Look for packaging with these characteristics:
- Durability. Use sturdy packaging that won’t break or spill during the delivery process.
- Proper size. Use the ideal size container for what you are transporting to ensure your food does not slosh around or overflow.
- User-friendly. Ensure packaging is easy to use with no sharp edges. For bonus points, use a container that is microwave safe for reheating leftovers.
- Branding. Make sure your packaging reflects your brand.
When packaging food always:
- Separate hot and cold items.
- Keep food hot until it is picked up.
- Keep sides and sauces separate.
- Wrap sauce containers in foil to prevent spillage.
- Reinforce all lids with a strip of tape.
- Keep food and beverages separate.
Open Your Virtual Kitchen!
You’re now equipped with the in-depth knowledge of how to open a virtual restaurant. With these skills, you’ll be operating a successful virtual restaurant in no time. Just remember to wear your brand on your sleeve and keep serving up delicious food.