Kitchen Showdown: Virtual vs. Ghost
by David Klemt
The lines between virtual and ghost kitchens are growing increasingly blurry as they rise in popularity.
The terms aren’t interchangeable—they’re separate concepts.
Let’s snap the two into focus so operators can decide for themselves which, if either, is for them.
A virtual kitchen or virtual restaurant supports a brick-and-mortar concept. This includes food trucks.
Standard process is as follows:
- A concept in a certain category seeks to expand their menu options without diluting or otherwise damaging their brand.
- They create new menu items and sometimes a new brand.
- Their existing kitchen or kitchens create these new items, which are online- and delivery-only.
A virtual kitchen has a brick-and-mortar location in a technical sense, but the brand’s existence is essentially digital as far as consumers know.
These facilities are delivery-only and commonly produce virtual brands’ items, which is a possible source of the confusion surrounding ghost and virtual kitchens. A truly virtual brand is only available online, either via its own ordering site or a delivery app—it has no brick-and-mortar location of its own.
We’ve known since the Chicken Wars first started that chicken sells, apparently in all forms. Several virtual brands, largely focused on wings and sandwiches, are succeeding with the help of ghost kitchens.
However, ghost kitchens also rent themselves out to or otherwise enter into contracts with third-party concepts with brick-and-mortar locations of their own to produce their delivery menu items.
The explosive rise of delivery is driving investment in ghost kitchens (former Uber executive Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens is an excellent example). It’s also the reason that so many industry experts and speculators declare ghosts “the future of restaurants.”
Not the Same
This quick rundown should clarify the differences between virtual kitchens and ghosts. Their missions may be similar but their operations are not.