Dark kitchens: what are they and what do they mean for you?

Many of us now get food from our favourite restaurants home-delivered through apps like Deliveroo, Foodora and Uber Eats, but is it really coming from where we think it is?

'Dark kitchens' are a concept regular food delivery app users might not know about.

A quick straw poll of friends who regularly use these apps to get dinner brought to their doors showed that no one had even heard of the concept, let alone knew the food they’ve ordered could have been delivered from one. So what are dark kitchens?

The rise of dark kitchens

Dark kitchens are a way for restaurants to pool resources and reduce overheads to increase their capacity to serve the food delivery market, which is currently growing by by 17.6% annually. A group of different restaurants can operate out of the same shared dark kitchen, with the purpose of cooking food purely for delivery, rather than eat-in customers.

These kitchens have no restaurants for consumers - the only people passing in and out of their doors are those cooking the meals and the couriers whisking away completed orders.

Following the venture's success in London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, Deliveroo has recently launched Deliveroo Editions in Melbourne. Editions launched to give customers access to food from restaurants that haven’t opened where they live and as a way for restaurant brands to grow in new areas without needing to open a whole new restaurant.

The kitchens have been built by Deliveroo, but the individual restaurants are responsible for bringing in their own staff to cook food from their menus. So while four or five different eateries might be operating from the kitchen, the food you’re getting should theoretically taste like it was cooked in the original restaurant.

The Editions site in Windsor, Melbourne includes eateries like 8Bit and Gelato Messina.

What's in it for the restaurants?

Deliveroo says Editions provide restaurants with the ready-made infrastructure they need to prepare high-quality food optimised for delivery, so businesses can make money from day one instead of bearing upfront costs or dealing with the complexity of setting up a new bricks-and-mortar restaurant.

Shayne McCallum, chef and director of 8bit, owns three burger restaurants in Melbourne, one in Sydney and has recently gotten on board with Deliveroo's first Australian Editions in Melbourne.

"Our Footscray store was doing really well through Deliveroo, so the crew from Editions contacted us to see if we were interested in setting up our kitchen in an area without 8bit," Shayne says. "I thought it'd be a pretty cool idea to offer delivery-only 8bit." 
 

 

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The incentive for Shayne was primarily that the kitchen already existed and was ready for 8bit to begin making food almost immediately.

"You walk into a kitchen that's already been built - it’s brand new and you’re not paying for anything except for the commission percentage to Deliveroo," Shayne told us. "And I can be a myth-buster and tell you the kitchen is actually very, very bright."

Another draw for 8bit was the marketing budget that accompanies partnering with a big player: "They’re really good with the marketing and that’s why we’re available for delivery exclusively on Deliveroo. That’s money we save by not spending anything on marketing ourselves," Shayne says.

Shayne also says the delivery-only kitchen has helped get their food to customers faster, with 8bit turning around the entire order and delivery process in about 20 minutes.

What's in it for you?

At this early stage, there doesn't appear to be much impact on the majority of us ordering from food delivery apps. The food should look and taste the same, if not better, due to shorter delivery times (Deliveroo Editions has found that prep time can reduce up to 10%).

Your food will also cost the same, but consumer cost savings could be on the horizon.

 “As we continue to expand Deliveroo Editions across Australia, we’re able to tap into restaurant supply chains, cutting costs for restaurants and consumers," says Levi Aron, country manager at Deliveroo Australia. "With multiple brands working together under one roof we can streamline the supply process, buying from one supplier and improving efficiency. We hope to continue to lower price points for a faster, cheaper and overall better food delivery experience.”

The best outcome for you, the consumer, is dark kitchens will eventually mean better access to food from restaurants yet to open in your area.

"I don’t think it makes any major difference for consumers," Shayne says. "But deliveries from Editions are quicker than they are from stores and there's more choice of restaurants for customers."

The future of dark kitchens

Although Deliveroo is currently the only Australian operator of a delivery-only kitchen, it seems like only a matter of time before its rivals join in.

'Virtual restaurants' available exclusively on apps and without premises will become more popular, and already exist overseas.

So does Shayne think dark kitchens are good for the future of restaurants?

"There are pros and cons. You'd probably rather have customers in your restaurants than having them eating your food at home watching Netflix," Shayne says.

Shayne wonders whether dark kitchens might take business away from smaller players who have invested their life savings into independent ventures, but also acknowledges that dark kitchens could be a great way for budding entrepreneurs to test restaurants in new markets, because data from delivery apps can predict which restaurants are likely to succeed in particular areas.

With no upfront costs for restaurants, budding restaurateurs can look to test their brand and build a customer base in a low-risk environment, before potentially branching-out and opening a premise once they know there is a demand for their service.

Food delivery apps will also increasingly use your data to find out how best to fill your tummy, by identifying gaps in the market based on order preferences in a particular area and determining which food items are most popular. Using this information, they can pinpoint the cuisines missing from your area and hand-pick restaurant brands that are most likely to appeal to customers there.

And with online takeaway revenue in Australia set to reach $3.37 billion by 2022, there's certainly a lot for food delivery apps to gain from experimenting with dark kitchens.

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