How to Start a Delivery Kitchen in 2021
In a bygone era, transforming your restaurant vision into a reality was an arduous process. Before you even thought of wading into the murky waters of supply chain management, you had to procure enough money for real estate, hire front- and back-of-house staff, and fund costly renovations. And that isn't even mentioning menu planning and conceptualization.
But the world is changing. Even before the pandemic hit, delivery kitchens - sometimes called "ghost kitchens" - were becoming increasingly popular. COVID-19 only accelerated the demand, as people wanted convenient, contactless meals from local businesses.
Essentially, delivery kitchens are commercial kitchens that only make food for delivery. They allow restaurateurs to expand with minimal capital. And they empower owners to take advantage of "the new normal" of on-demand delivery.
In this post, let's explore how to start a delivery kitchen in 2021. If you're interested in the relatively simple process of turning your food vision into a reality, follow the steps below.
Connect with a Delivery Kitchen Operator
The best way to establish a delivery kitchen is to partner with a delivery kitchen operator. Basically, you pitch the operator a concept (complete with a name and type of cuisine served) and work with them to build out and refine the idea. They then provide you with space to prepare your kitchen concept.
Some delivery kitchen operators even provide staffing. If you're looking for a truly turnkey growth path, a key operator to contact would be REEF Technology - they have a network of 5,000 locations across North America and Europe, and a platform focused on helping restaurateurs reach customers and expand their business without capital expenditure.
Conduct Market Research
Before presenting a delivery kitchen operator with your idea, consider conducting market research. The research can be as formal or informal as you want.
You can conduct a scaled-down version of the market research large companies use by collating primary and secondary sources. Poll your personal network on types of food concepts they want to see (and those they don't want to see). And try to determine your restaurant market potential by researching other local businesses in restaurant industry publications and local (or state) restaurant associations.
Hopefully, this process yields a few key insights:
The desirability of your concept
The current market share or saturation of your concept
Your main local competitors
Armed with this knowledge, you can steer your concept toward success.
Refine Your Menu
If you work with a delivery kitchen operator (as recommended), the process of refining your idea will be a collaborative effort. For example, REEF Technology (mentioned above) has a world-class culinary and operations team that works with you to determine the best representations of your brand and product.
For your part, take an "iterative" approach. Iteration is essentially a fancy term for that old chef adage: "taste and adjust." If you're making a burger and the bun eats dry, look for a bun with a higher hydration. The next time you make it, if you notice the sauce is too acidic, dial back the mustard or round it out with sweetness. These are specific examples, but they underscore the importance of iteration: Every time you make the dish, aim to improve at least one thing.
If all goes according to plan - if you conduct successful market research, partner with a delivery kitchen operator and refine your concept - you are ready for the pilot phase. Compared to creating a restaurant ten years ago, the process is straightforward and accessible.