Ghost kitchens — foodservice operations that prepare orders for off-premises dining only — and virtual brands were among the few foodservice business models that proved resilient to the pandemic’s negative economic effects.
Of course, ghost kitchens differ somewhat from traditional kitchens. And for that reason, the equipment considerations will vary. For example, equipment uptime and reliability are now mutual concerns, with potential impacts to all operators within a shared ghost kitchen space. Naturally, this will result in larger refrigeration loads than traditional restaurants and a potentially greater variety of cooking equipment to accommodate diverse menus.
Traditional patterns of consumption may also be disrupted; this operational variability may introduce new food preparation dynamics in shared ghost kitchens. Equipment usage monitoring will also become more important, both to understand utilization patterns and to assess and ensure that equipment is running at peak performance and efficiency.
Multivendor ghost kitchen activities may also introduce shared-space complexities, especially considering that each vendor may have many unique food preparation requirements while sharing common equipment, such as refrigeration storage, walk-in coolers and freezers, combi ovens and fryers.
Equipment sharing also raises questions about owning and/or leasing these critical assets. Will the facility operator incur costs, or will the vendors lease equipment based on a flat fee or usage? Many of these arrangements are still being worked out within emerging business models.
Like any foodservice establishment, ghost kitchens must implement standard protocols to protect consumers and ensure food quality and safety, such as establishing hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) programs. Using temperature monitoring and probing devices to automate data collection and record-keeping for local health inspectors is also considered a best practice.
In addition, the increased variety of offerings in ghost kitchens may make the development of and adherence to HACCP standards more difficult. For large conglomerates servicing multiple brands from one ghost kitchen facility, maintaining food preparation consistency across all brands will be essential for delivering the quality their customers expect.
Determining the energy consumption — per ghost kitchen facility, food vendor or equipment type — will be important in delineating the energy profiles of each entity and asset. Recommended data-gathering measures include submetering to capture usage per vendor and the monitoring of energy consumption based on each equipment asset and its associated usage.
While pandemic-driven market uncertainties persist, the ghost kitchen concept has benefited greatly from consumer preferences for emerging foodservice fulfillment options. Whether this emergence represents a seismic industry shift or a temporary trend remains to be seen.
However the ghost kitchen concept may evolve in the future, the foodservice equipment supply chain must remain at the ready to support operators. From refrigeration technologies to connected monitoring devices and facility management control platforms, the supply chain will need to help ghost kitchen operators and vendors maximize food quality and safety, increase equipment reliability, and monitor performance to meet this emerging market.
Written by Paul Hepperla, Vice president, solutions strategy, Emerson’s cold chain business