The restaurant industry continues to face pandemic-related issues, including supply chain disruptions, new COVID variants and rising cases, labor shortages, rising prices and changes in consumer demand. As a result, ghost kitchens, delivery-oriented kitchens with no display cabinets or dining areas, are gaining popularity. Ghost kitchens allow operators to use commercial kitchens – sometimes in spaces shared with other brands – without the overhead of a full catering space and staff.
The National Retail Federation called shadow kitchens a $43 billion industry, and Hospitality Technology predicts that number will reach $71.4 billion by 2027. Everyone from small concepts to large chains, like Wendy’s , Applebee’s and Cracker Barrel, are turning to ghost kitchens amid the ongoing pandemic.
The cost of running a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant is high, and many restaurants are losing important in-house restaurant operations amid the ongoing pandemic. Traditional restaurants, with their huge overheads, are simply not designed for high demand for delivery. As 60% of U.S. consumers order takeout or delivery at least once a week, and online orders are growing 300% faster than dine-in, many smart operators have pivoted, using shadow kitchens to s adapt to these new trends.
However, the same challenges arise in the quality assurance and food safety protocols of ghost kitchens that plague traditional restaurant cooking. Food companies should take a fresh look at some traditional kitchen challenges that can even be amplified in ghost kitchens:
- Be transparent. Food safety practices were happening “behind the scenes” as customers assumed restaurants were taking proper safety precautions. Now, thanks to COVID, everyone is watching and demanding safer practices. Make food safety and customer reassurance a priority to create a brand that customers (and employees) trust and support.
- Promote your safe practices on social media. While ghost kitchens must meet food safety regulations, it’s not easy for customers to see if these facilities are compliant. Customers can’t access health inspection letter ratings for ghost kitchens like they can at traditional restaurants, which often display proof of inspection in their windows or dining rooms. Therefore, post your health inspection reports on your website and social media platforms. Make it obvious that you are following safe food practices to encourage extra confidence in your guests during these exceptional times.
- Engage in continuing education. All workers should be trained in food safety, not just upon hire, but throughout their tenure. Use technology tools to provide regular training and send small “chunks” of information directly to employee phones. Train employees on food safety protocols, as well as additional cleaning and COVID safety practices.
- Audit differently. Traditionally, restaurants would bring third-party auditors onsite to inspect their facilities. COVID has changed that. Today, food companies – including ghost kitchens – are creating a culture of collaboration and development by changing their audit processes. Audits can feel punitive and make teams feel disconnected from their supervisors, but by creating a collaborative model for audits, where the team participates in the process, you can create a culture of excellence and safety.
- Use digital tools. Technological tools facilitate access to information, data analysis and the adoption of appropriate quality and safety behaviors. Your digital solutions should enable continuous learning and improve safety and quality. Technology solutions can improve food safety checklists and audits, track ingredient lists and allergen information, and help staff manage food safety processes quickly, easily, and accurately.
- Continue to focus on food security. Focus on food safety protocols, such as cooking at appropriate temperatures, proper food storage, no cross-contamination, etc. And follow new COVID protocols: frequent sanitizing of high-touch areas, frequent hand washing, social distancing, and masking. Make sure every employee adheres to these rules. Remember: you are only as strong as your weakest link.
- Check all equipment. Make sure coolers and other equipment are working properly. It is wise to install digital sensors to alert the team if the door of a fridge or freezer is accidentally left open or if the temperature drops below a certain level. Thermometers should be calibrated at the start of each shift.
- Make sure food comes from safe sourcess. Be aware of your suppliers’ food safety policies and only work with partners who adhere to the highest safety and quality standards. Use software solutions to manage supplier certifications.
- Learn about food allergies. Designate an allergy-free preparation area where foods can be prepared without risk of contamination from allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, sesame, wheat, etc. Be sure to use clean, sanitized utensils to prepare allergen-free foods. food and place hypoallergenic meals in separate containers for delivery. Train your staff in food allergy management and have a knowledgeable person carefully supervise meal preparation (and answer questions) for food allergic guests.
- Deliver food safely. Delivery-only concepts need to consider how to protect food from their kitchen to their customers’ homes. Make sure your drivers have the necessary equipment to keep food at the right temperature – hot food hot, cold food cold – during delivery. Drivers should also sanitize their hands frequently, including after touching doorknobs, doorbells, money, etc.