Whether you call them “ghost kitchens,” “dark kitchens,” “cloud kitchens,” or “virtual restaurants,” it’s one of the most buzzworthy concepts over the past year. But unlike so many other buzzwords that ultimately fade from popularity, ghost kitchens have more than just staying power—they have transformed our industry and are leading the way in defining the restaurant of the future.
What I’m about to say may shock you, but here at Branded Strategic Hospitality, we believe that 50 percent of all restaurants could be virtual by 2030. According to data from Euromonitor from July 2020, the U.S. had 1,500 ghost kitchens—and of course that number has grown immensely since then, especially given recent news of Kitchen United teaming up with Kroger grocery stores, Nathan’s Famous doubling its number of ghost kitchens, DoorDash launching full-service kitchens, and more. But as we look beyond the U.S.’ border, we are still far behind China and India, which have 2.5 to 5 times the number of ghost kitchens. Euromonitor predicted the global market could, by the end of this decade, be a $1 trillion market, and that was over a year ago, when we were just a few months into the pandemic.
There is an enormous opportunity for emerging tech companies looking for a piece of the virtual pie. As tech investors and advisors, and restaurant operators for over 25 years, we are keeping an extremely close eye on the up-and-comers in the ghost kitchen space to not only see who is bold enough to take on the likes of Kitchen United, REEF, DoorDash, Zuul, and C3, but also who can help continue to evolve this rapidly growing segment.
Here are our predictions for the six emerging tech companies to watch.
With Chowly, restaurant operators can integrate their POS systems with third-party online ordering platforms, eliminating the need for manual order entry. In June, Chowly teamed up with C3 to offer its 10,000-plus kitchen partners access to C3’s 40 virtual brands. The two companies also plan to develop and launch brands that will be exclusive to Chowly’s network.
In the world of virtual restaurants, where every customer interaction is off-premises, guest feedback is nearly impossible to gather — unless an incorrect order lands you a nasty Yelp review. Ovation provides an easy way not only to find out how customers are feeling, but also to fix issues in seconds.
COVID-19 accelerated the development of contact-free tech in last-mile delivery. Pickup pods, in particular, have helped improve the food delivery experience for the 20% of Americans who live in apartments. And as people start heading back to the office, ghost kitchens can work with corporate buildings, as well, for contact-free delivery. Minnow’s individually locked, wifi-enabled cubbies are convenient and efficient, while keeping food safe, secure, and fresher longer.
Targetable came onto the restaurant scene a few years ago to help restaurants run Facebook and Instagram ads. And it’s a great tech solution, primarily because no operator got into the restaurant business with the goal of being their own ad agency. Since most virtual restaurants rely on third-party delivery platforms as their primary marketing vehicle—after all, there’s no physical storefront or street address—Targetable adds an extra oomph behind a restaurant’s marketing efforts.
Customer loyalty always has been and always will be important, but with the number of restaurants—both brick-and-mortar and virtual—growing every day, it’s critical to beat the competition, own your own customers, and garner repeat business. Spendgo specializes in helping restaurants create unique loyalty programs and acquire, engage, and retain customers through CRM and messaging programs.
VROMO, which was originally founded as WeBringg in 2016, is a SaaS food delivery platform that currently operates in over 250 cities throughout 15-plus countries. VROMO already integrates with some of the U.S.’ biggest delivery service provider platforms and, in March, the Dublin-based company inked deals in the U.S. with Square and Olo.
Jimmy Frischling is co-founder and managing partner of Branded Strategic Hospitality, a New York City-based firm that invests in emerging technology in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Branded’s portfolio includes 23 companies, including Ovation, Chowly, TapRm, PourMyBeer, Minnow, and Bbot. To learn more about Branded, visit www.brandedstrategic.com.