The Rise of Ghost Kitchens and Not So ‘Fast’ Food
Mobile apps and anonymous chefs are changing how food is made and delivered.
“What do you want to eat for dinner?”
It’s the age-old question to ask after a hard day at work or a weekend when cooking just isn’t on the menu. And if you’re lucky, you won’t have to deal with the one indecisive person in your group who doesn’t want to eat anything anybody else does.
Amazon Restaurant, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats has made it this way. You can all order and eat whatever you want from home. Even better, you can skip the awkward feeling of bringing “outside” food into a competitor’s restaurant so you can eat together.
But with the popularity of online food ordering, what happens to waiters and the restaurant industry itself? And is fast food really “fast” anymore?
Does fast food need to be “fast”?
If you’ve been through a drive-thru recently, it’s not your imagination. The wait time is getting slower. According to QSR Magazine, some of the most popular restaurants are experiencing their slowest speeds in history:
- Chick-fil-A at 203.88 seconds
- Burger King at 198.48 seconds
- McDonald’s at 189.49 seconds
- Taco Bell at 158.03 seconds
- Wendy’s at 133.63 seconds
And while Wendy’s is clearly beating the others, the fact remains that all of these restaurants have your meal prepared in four minutes or less. Meanwhile ordering from fast-food restaurants like White Castle on GrubHub can lead to customers waiting 15 to 25 minutes for food from a restaurant less than a mile away.
For consumers who aren’t as concerned about “fast” food (literally) more than they are about convenience, this may be no big deal. From an economical standpoint, the sales tax, mandatory delivery charges and tips for the delivery driver can double or triple the price. But is convenience worth it? And what are servers supposed to do now?
Are waitresses becoming extinct?
There’s no debate about whether technology has changed the face of the employment industry. The tech industry has become the go-to job, with labor-intensive jobs lagging behind. Artificial intelligence is even challenging jobs in the legal industry, such as paralegals and lawyers themselves.
So if one of the top-paying jobs in the country is being challenged by technology, how do food service jobs fare? Surprisingly, restaurants and waitressing are doing well. According to The Atlantic, more people will work at restaurants than in manufacturing in 2020.
And while restaurant jobs have grown faster than the overall economy every month for the past seven years, the problem is that they pay less. And depending on the city, minimum wage just may not be enough to have a livable income.
However, this Harvard Business Review study sums up that Americans are not planning on stopping outside food consumption anytime soon:
- 50 percent said they hate to cook
- 35 percent are ambivalent about cooking
- only 15 percent said they love to cook
That leaves people spending more money in restaurants than they do on groceries to make home-cooked meals.
The appearance of ghost kitchens
But if food delivery companies are creating a bridge between hungry consumers who want to stay home and restaurants who need to make a profit, why are restaurants doing so well? One reason could be the rise in ghost kitchens.
Chicago is one of many places that’s seeing ghost kitchens pop up. Place an order for an Impossible veggie burger with Vedgee. Google Maps shows this address as a restaurant called Star Grill. Yelp confirms Star Grill is closed. Drive by the restaurant, and you can clearly see a restaurant sign for Nikos Grill. Inside, there are only two people: the cook preparing food and the cashier taking orders. With a few seats in the front area and no tables, consumers can check out 11 different menus from Dine Hive (the name of the ghost kitchen).
Ghost kitchens like Dine Hive have made it so that if one restaurant isn’t your cup of tea, then there’s a backup plan in the same place. They’ve basically made lemons out of lemonade and made it profitable, too. And with more restaurants, there must be cooks who can make all of these different menu items.
While waitresses may not be needed in ghost kitchens, if they’re interested in learning to cook, this is as good of a time as any to perfect other food industry skills. After all, millennials are three times more likely to order than their parents and food delivery apps are in the top 40 most downloaded apps.
So are the online ordering industry and mobile food app options destroying the traditional restaurant industry? Arguably, one could say yes. But considering the popularity in food ordering convenience and the rise in signs making food delivery accessible on these food delivery apps, you could argue otherwise.