Jorge Santillán / GF2GO CEO

Ghost kitchens have transformed the way we think about restaurants. As this innovative part of the hospitality sector has continued to grow and evolve, key trends have also emerged that will help shape the overall direction of the market. By staying on top of what’s happening in the ghost kitchen industry, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and investors alike can all make the most of the incredible opportunities these modern concepts present.

The Emergence of Direct to Consumer Options

Ghost kitchens came on to the restaurant scene in 2019. Since then, a lot has changed, including some brands moving away from solely relying on third-party delivery services (that often charge extremely high fees).

Though most ghost kitchens still utilize services like GrubHub, UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates, many are also finding ways to reach their customers directly. Some restaurants have created their own apps where customers can place their orders, and others are using independent apps designed to give customers a more personal, direct link. 

Ghost Kitchens Go Green

One overwhelmingly positive trend is that ghost kitchens are increasingly concerned with implementing responsible, sustainable practices. It’s estimated that restaurants account for a whopping 22-33 million pounds of food waste each year. Since ghost kitchens rely heavily on technology to track data, they can more accurately predict demand—and in turn reduce the amount of food that’s wasted.

Packaging is another huge concern, since delivered items require containers, bags, utensils, etc. Luckily, many environmentally minded operators have switched to more sustainable options, and are actively working to reduce packaging waste. 

Automation on the Rise

Part of the appeal of ghost kitchens is that they operate with minimal staff (and minimal labor costs). New technology has led to an increase in automation, which is reducing the need for staff even further. For example, some locations use automated food lockers that allow delivery drivers to pick up orders in an efficient, contactless way. Others rely on tools like automated checkout systems and kiosks. In major cities, some have even turned to robotic delivery drivers.

Big Brands on Board

The beauty of ghost kitchens is that the barrier to entry is lower than it is with brick and mortar restaurants—which means small brands and independent operators are able to compete. However, large chains and franchises are catching onto the opportunities ghost kitchens present, and are quickly jumping on board. 

Fast food giant Wendy’s plans to open 700 ghost kitchens in the USA, UK, and Canada by 2025. Similarly, brands like Quiznos, Taco Del Mar, Applebees, and Cracker Barrel are all opening and expanding their virtual options. Large brands are focusing on large cities, since many of their traditional outposts require too large of a real estate footprint to thrive in city centers. By pivoting to delivery-only models, franchises are able to access markets that were previously untapped.

Ghost Kitchens Continue to Evolve

No matter what happens in the restaurant industry, one thing seems certain: ghost kitchens will become increasingly important players in the hospitality world. According to a study conducted by Hospitality Technology, the industry will be worth $71.4 billion by 2027. This is a clear sign that ghost kitchens are not only here to stay, but they’re also here to succeed. As operators gain experience in this emerging market, they’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t—and how to make ghost kitchens as efficient and profitable as possible.