Shedding Light on Dark Kitchens

During pandemic lockdowns, many restaurants shifted their business model away from traditional brick and mortar to online takeout and delivery-only.
Shedding Light on Dark Kitchens
July 14, 2022

With lockdowns requiring rounds of restaurant closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants shifted their business model away from traditional brick and mortar to online takeout and delivery-only. This led to a rise in a different type of kitchen, designed for that demand: the dark kitchen.

Dark kitchens, also known as cloud kitchens or ghost kitchens, are commercial kitchen spaces that provide efficient and affordable options versus the brick-and-mortar model. Below, we explore more about what a dark kitchen is, and examine the three different types.

What exactly is a Dark Kitchen?

A dark kitchen is a food service space designed for take-away or delivery food businesses. Dark kitchens are on the rise, despite still being a fairly new concept, as online food delivery continues to gain momentum. This year, revenue within the online food delivery segment within Australia is projected to reach $2.28 billion, for an annual growth rate of 13.5%. Also seeing a rise in popularity are individuals looking to start their own food businesses, in search for alternatives to the traditional restaurant model, which can be costly and hard to maintain.

Traditional Restaurant Kitchens Compared to Dark Kitchens
The biggest difference between dark and regular kitchens is format, with the former designed with a focus on efficiency in flow. Some dark kitchens are designated sections or offshoots of traditional kitchens, while others are prebuilt and furnished pods. All are designed to streamline food preparation and enable fast turnaround time for food delivery models.

The 3 Types of Dark Kitchens

  1. Kitchen Pods: A pod is a mobile container that comes pre-fitted with kitchen appliances, accessories and plumbing. This option requires minimal space, is low-budget and quick to execute. Additional factors to consider with this model include things like zoning laws that might limit where the pod can be installed. If exploring this option, be sure to do additional research.
  2. Shared or Commissary: Shared or Commissary kitchens are owned and operated by third-party companies or solo-business owners and entrepreneurs instead of restaurants. These individuals rent out their spaces to one or multiple restaurants at a time. Shared/Commissary Kitchens are typically outfitted with storage and cooking space, ventilation, cleaning supplies and sinks. Some come with additional equipment and storage lockers. This dark kitchen model is one of the most popular it provides the equipment, space and setup at a fraction of the investment otherwise required.
  3. Incubator or Pop-Up: This model focuses on online and delivery orders. An incubator or pop-up model is connected to a restaurant's regular kitchen and typically has a separate workflow set up within the existing framework. This reduces costs and reliance on the main crew supporting the brick-and-mortar restaurant orders. This type of dark kitchen is ideal for restaurants looking to test out new trends or concepts that may come up in the marketplace, without alienating their loyal customer base or significantly altering the existing menu. These models can also be found within mobile set-ups like food trucks or kiosks.

Food safety standards and practices are critical components to success, no matter which format of Dark Kitchen you choose. This is especially true in a shared environment. Commissaries and Incubators have a greater likelihood of having food handling/safety standards in place, but pod kitchens can be more challenging surrounding food safety, especially in a space with no windows. When considering the possibility of working within a dark kitchen, be sure proper cleaning practices are adhered to and all staff are trained in food handling to protect your business and keep your customers safe and returning for more.