Ghost kitchens continue to change the foodservice landscape, allowing concepts to fill in their footprints and move into areas that may not otherwise be viable via brick and mortar locations. Seeing an opportunity, many ghost kitchen operators have seemingly appeared out of nowhere to rent kitchen space not spooked by this new opportunity.
When evaluating a ghost kitchen rental, operators should of course understand what equipment the agreement includes and how much space they need to execute their concept. Beyond those basics, though, they need to investigate how well the equipment in their potential ghost kitchen is maintained.
According to John Thorpe, branch manager for Cincinnati-based Commercial Parts & Service, operators should start by asking about the planned maintenance program for the space. Questions should go further than whether a planned maintenance agreement is in place. Also key is how frequently the owner maintains the space. As a rule of thumb, says Thorpe, kitchens need quarterly maintenance. Having such an agreement in place, helps keep the equipment running and serves as a sign that the owner sees its ghost kitchen space as a long-term investment.
In addition to the planned maintenance conversation, operators evaluating potential ghost kitchen spaces should take a good look at the equipment to make sure it’s in good working order. One thing to look for is the equipment brands. There are obviously a huge number of reputable manufacturers that make quality kitchen equipment. If a kitchen is filled with many manufacturer brands the operator isn’t familiar with, further investigation may be necessary. Jot down some manufacturer names and product numbers and do a quick search for reviews, Thorpe recommends.
Beyond the brands, the most basic thing to consider is cleanliness. If a kitchen’s equipment isn’t clean, it probably isn’t well maintained, either. Just like a fresh coat of wax can make a clunker car look great, though, clean equipment isn’t a sure sign of good equipment. Operators, then, should keep an eye out for signs that a rental kitchen is or isn’t well maintained.
Water filters on equipment like ice machines and steamers are easy to assessr, Thorpe states. “Do they have a water filter system and if they do, is there a date on it? If the filter hasn't been changed in two years that's something that should jump out at you right off the bat. If there is no water filter, you may run into issues with scale that could take a piece of equipment down and leave you waiting on a service company to get it up and running again.”
On the refrigeration side, says Thorpe, operators should check out gaskets and make sure doors close well and maintain a good seal. They should also ask to seek the coils on a unit. Dirty coils are an obvious warning sign. For hot equipment, it’s worth turning the units on, seeing if they come up to temperature and then cycle down.
“Doing that is going to involve having thermometers of some sort, but if someone is looking to rent this space, they should have something to test the temperatures,” says Thorpe.
A lot of ghost kitchen evaluation is common sense, or just one step beyond common sense. Look for cleanliness, check out how well the equipment works and ask about service. These may seem like simple steps, but they can be overlooked, and missing them can cost money and cause a lot of aggravation to operators testing out this new sort of venture.