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CHECKLIST: Planning a dark kitchen that can keep up with demand

Ghost kitchen design

Cooking equipment manufacturer Rational classifies ghost kitchens into five distinct types, representing various business models and operational set-ups. Director of international key accounts, Stephan Leuschner, describes what’s achievable with the right planning and equipment.

TYPE 1: Restaurant without seats / pivot to delivery

Basic set-up – no delivery optimised concept

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This is the most basic ghost kitchen set-up and the one that is most commonly favoured by traditional restaurant operators that wish to offer a delivery service.

“These are restaurants which have pivoted to delivery and it is happening right now unfortunately due to the impact of Covid,” says Rational’s Stephan Leuschner. “Many restaurant owners and operators have tasted the apple so they may consider wanting to continue but — and this is what is very important — taking a restaurant, closing the restaurant door but selling via the window is not a ghost kitchen. Why? Because it is still operating under the restaurant mindset.

To be fully efficient and get the best possible benefit out of your ghost kitchen, you should rethink everything from workflow and space to product menu. Therefore, the Type 1 is of course a static ghost kitchen — it is more or less your regular restaurant just offering dial-out.”

TYPE 2: Dual / multi brand restaurant kitchen

Few owned brands in one kitchen. All brands belong to one company

Type 2 kitchens are certainly nothing new — in fact they have been pioneered by some of the biggest names in takeaway and delivery for many years, notes Stephan Leuschner.

“They are more popular among the ‘real’ brands as we call them, so a good example would be Domino’s Pizza, which is probably the most well-known ghost kitchen [operator] worldwide. They have only ever focused on their one particular concept — maybe you could say a dual brand thing — but ultimately they are focused on their specific product and concept.

In the case of such a company, they have a great customer base and this works well when selling one product only. If you were to start a ghost kitchen selling only one item today, I am afraid you wouldn’t have [sufficient] utilisation of your kitchen and the orders you would require. Therefore it would obviously be more efficient to have multiple brands in operation.

TYPE 3: Central production kitchen

For commissary purposes only to supply satellite ghost kitchen (Type 4 / 5)

Type 3 represents a traditional commissary production kitchen, where large amounts of products are produced, packed and prepared to a certain degree before being finished off in a satellite kitchen at a later date. This could be short grilling or just a final cook off on-site bearing in mind that most ghost kitchens will have a time window of roughly five, maybe seven, minutes between order-in and pick-up of delivery.

Says Stephan Leuschner: “This is maybe something that many people don’t know, but ultimately the food order is pushed through the kitchen only at the point where the driver, for example, accepts your order. So this can still be 15 minutes after your order online, but the ghost kitchens and satellites will normally only have a few minutes [to fulfil the order]. This would, in our opinion, offer an opportunity to take a certain approach where you have a central production kitchen [preparing the food prior] and multiple outlets.”

TYPE 4: Multi operator shared kitchen / KAAS

Shared general areas, however individual operated brands (“boxes”)

Also known as ‘kitchen as a service’, the multi-operator shared kitchen represents a site where one brand is operating or offering space for different other customers’ brands to cook their individual products and access certain shared facilities such as storage or delivery areas.

Stephan Leuschner says: “The benefit, of course, is that it offers more focus on the individual brands. The downside is that each of these ‘boxes’ — as we call them — which is eventually rented or operated will use their own equipment, which creates a certain redundancy at the cost of more space.”

Type 4 ghost kitchens provide operators with the flexibility to adopt new brands or concepts for particular day-parts. It can also be tailored to the preferences of the local area as not every satellite kitchen necessarily needs to offer the same volume or same style of product. “Multiple, similar brands can be operated in parallel by one crew, for example,” notes Stephan Leuschner (below).

TYPE 5: Multi brand single operator

Multiple brands in one shared kitchen, operated by one company

Stephan Leuschner says that Type 5 is actually a concept that Rational sees as being the most efficient combination with Type 3, where one company is operating multiple brands. “Experience shows that some 20 or 30 brands operated on site would give you the best utilisation. In this case, you do have dedicated areas to produce similar food items for similar menus, but the equipment is shared where possible so this actually gives us utilisation.”

In a Type 5 environment, multiple companies operating real or virtual brands individually would work in partially shared environments. They would have their own preparation areas, but share aspects such as the pick-up area. As a result, a ‘box’ offering a specific style of Asian cuisine might be equipped with specialist equipment such as large pots, kettles or multifunctional equipment, whereas a neighbouring box focused on sandwiches or burgers would be using grills.

“It would mostly be owned or rented equipment per brand used which creates a certain amount of redundancy as I mentioned before, but the benefit is that each brand can maintain full control of everything and use the signature equipment that they would in a traditional bricks-and-mortar store as well.” As Leuschner notes, Type 5 exhibits the same characteristics as a catering kitchen, making it feel like more of a semi-industrial environment.

Ghost kitchen operational requirements

1. Safe and easy to use equipment for all operator skill levels.

Equipment needs to be safe and easy to use, with clear instructions of workflow as not all operators will be highly skilled chefs in these environments.

2. Standard procedures to guarantee consistent food quality and safety

Preparation procedures need to be standardised and there needs to be clear SOPs to guarantee that the relevant brand food quality and food safety are assured.

3. Multifunctional equipment set-up to allow short term changes of menu

Multifunctional equipment can assist operators that are looking for greater flexibility and only wish to use a few types of equipment at the same time.

4. Ergonomic workstations for higher efficiency

When building a delivery kitchen, ergonomics is a very important factor. These are typically heavy duty workplaces so the comfort of employees working in them for long periods should be considered.

5. Highly utilised equipment for minimum space

The more that equipment can be utilised, the less space is needed. If traditional equipment such as open ranges, kettles, fryers and pots is not used continuously, valuable space can be lost. Certain multinational appliances can help operators reduce space requirements and still achieve a high utilisation.

6. Prepare batches in central kitchen — finish in satellite upon order

Operators can prepare large volumes of product in separate central kitchens using specific equipment, before completing any final cooking in a satellite kitchen.

Rational is the Platinum Partner sponsor of the Cooking Platforms category of FEJ Kitchen Excellence Week. For information and brochures, or to find out about free Rational Live demonstrations, call 01582 480388 or visit www.rational-online.com

Tags : cooking platformsKitchen Excellence WeekRational
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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