Operations

How to start a successful ghost kitchen

Melanie O'Hanlon
Marketing Associate

The benefits of ghost kitchens are undeniable, but starting a ghost kitchen is a new and overwhelming prospect for many operators. There’s a long road between getting started and delivering your first order, so we’ve broken the process down into four digestible steps to help launch your ghost kitchen and begin turning a profit.

This is the first article in our ghost kitchen series, where we’re exploring all the ins and outs of how to make virtual restaurants work for your business. Sign up for our newsletter to ensure you don’t miss any tips!

Step 1: Find real estate

The first step to starting your ghost kitchen is to find the perfect space — one that’s within your budget, has enough room for your brand new business, and is near a neighborhood with high delivery demand.

If you have an existing kitchen, you already have the perfect space! The trick is segmenting your existing space to make room for your new operations. Allocate areas of your space specifically for your new ghost kitchen, like a corner of your kitchen for food prep and an outpost with the brand’s logo on it for easy pick-up. 

Then, select a set number of days and hours when your normal operations tend to be slower and there are fewer dine-in guests (e.g., weekdays). Enable delivery for your virtual kitchen during those times to keep your staff from getting overwhelmed with orders and ensure high guest satisfaction. Many digital ordering solutions work with you to separate your restaurant and ghost kitchen finances for comprehensive accounting and reporting.

For those working without space or who don’t have the resources to split out their current kitchen, companies like KitchenUnited and All Day Kitchens provide ready-made commercial kitchen spaces, sometimes with pre-existing staff for ghost kitchens. This takes the hassle out of a long search process and quickly gets you up and running!

These commercial kitchens help operators who may be new to the world of ghost kitchens. They act as incubators, providing a low-risk way to start with a built-in support network of other virtual kitchen operators. They also provide essential resources like staff, pre-implemented tech, and high-quality in-house advisory teams to get your ghost kitchen launched on the right foot.

If neither of these sounds like what you’re looking for, the third path is to partner with a local restaurant, hotel, or catering company. Most hospitality businesses don’t keep their kitchen running 24 hours a day, and many cut operation hours due to the pandemic and staffing circumstances.

Operators like those mentioned above have partnered with ghost kitchens and virtual brands to recoup revenue by renting their space during downtimes. This option is ideal for seasoned hospitality operators who know the industry well and can negotiate a good deal with the host kitchen, creating a win-win for both parties.

Step 2: Hire and retain delivery couriers

First-party delivery is essential to a ghost kitchen’s long-term survival. Without it, you’re severely limiting your margins and, ultimately, your bottom line. Luckily, establishing your ghost kitchen’s driver pool is relatively simple these days, thanks to the growth of white-label delivery services.

DoorDash Drive, Orkestro, and C3 are perfect for ghost kitchens that want a “hands-off” approach to managing drivers. Instead of going through the hiring and training process yourself, you can use a white-label service to manage and direct drivers for a relatively small fee per delivery.

For established restaurants looking to open a virtual brand, consider cross-training existing employees - no need to combat the labor shortage! This way, your staff can pick up more hours when they’re low, and by offering increased wages and tips, you add value to the hiring process.

Step 3: Get your menu online

A well thought-out menu pays dividends in the long run. Diners today crave a five-star interactive experience on par with Starbucks or Chipotle, so empowering guests to customize their order and tasting experience is vital to providing maximum satisfaction (lettuce-wrapped burger, hold the mayo please!). Making your menu more interactive makes it stand out from the competition and will keep customers coming back thanks to the frictionless order experience.

Partner with a tech company like Bbot to build and host your online menu — our all-in-one ghost kitchen platform gives you the tools you need to maximize your menu’s interactivity and personalization. Create set menus for holidays, throttle or pause orders during peak hours to help overwhelmed staff, and update both your first and third-party menus automatically without juggling multiple tablets or rebooting your system. Guests can customize their orders down to the sauce, so they get what they want with fewer errors due to missed notes. These methods of increasing customer satisfaction drive more delivery orders — kitchens using Bbot’s platform see delivery check sizes increase by 30%.

And don’t forget about your third-party app menus! Most ghost kitchens utilize “dual ordering,” a combination of first and third-party delivery, to drive as much revenue as possible. Popular third-party apps like DoorDash and Grubhub help first-time customers find your ghost kitchen through an established marketplace. It’s important to take time to make your menu stand out from the crowd by investing in sponsored spots or offering promos through these sites.

Once your ghost kitchen is established, you can think about adding new brands to create a virtual food hall using your existing resources. Tomlinson Brands saw a monthly $32K increase in revenue after bringing 8 different brands online, making it easier for guests to pick from all their favorites in one place. Digital menu providers like Bbot power these multi-brand options to create an easily searchable and organized virtual food hall, enabling customers to order from multiple brands with one simple checkout.

Step 4: Establish an online presence

Congratulations, your ghost kitchen is officially up and running! The last step in the process of starting your ghost kitchen is expanding your online presence beyond just your digital ordering site to increase brand awareness and keep guests rolling in.

First, set up your Google Business profile. This creates brand credibility at no cost to you, and is a simple way to appear in Google searches with location, operating hours, and more. Build out your profile with your logo, food images, links to your menu, and contact info. Don’t forget to list your first-party ordering site as the *preferred* order method to help drive guests to your highest-margin channel!

Social media is another great avenue to increase your visibility and bring in guests. Create business accounts for your new ghost kitchen on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. These profiles enable you to include information that’s essential to your guests, like the link to your first-party ordering site, operating hours, contact information, and more.

Social media is also a popular tool for sharing special deals or promotions to boost business. When posting, include popular hashtags your customers may be browsing, such as location-based and food-related hashtags, increasing the likelihood a potential guest will see it! You can also share content from customers to help build consistent engagement. 

Following these four simple steps will help get your ghost kitchen up and running in no time. Hungry for more ghost kitchen content? Stay tuned for more in this series, including a deep dive into ghost kitchen real estate, celebrity ghost kitchens, and more! Sign up for our newsletter to ensure you never miss a release.

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