9 tips for running a dark kitchen

A dark kitchen, also known as a ghost kitchen or virtual kitchen, is a restaurant that operates exclusively for delivery or takeout orders. The dark kitchen market was valued at $371.9 million in 2020 and is projected to experience significant growth with an average annual growth rate of 15% from 2022 to 2028.

The popularity of these food outlets rose in response to the rising demand for takeaways throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, where more and more restaurants turned to dark kitchens to increase revenue and reach new customers. 

However, running a dark kitchen involves dealing with unique challenges, as it requires a different set of skills and strategies than running a traditional restaurant. Keep reading to discover our top tips for successfully running a dark kitchen.

1. Understand your target market: Before launching a dark kitchen, it is essential to research the market and identify potential customers. This includes understanding the demographics of the area, the types of cuisine that are in demand, and the competition. By understanding the market, you can tailor your menu and marketing efforts to attract the right customers.

Takeaway delivery company, Just Eat, revealed that in London, Italian is the preferred cuisine of choice. The East Midlands, in contrast, has a preference for Chinese food. By taking a look at what's popular in your area, you can garner which types of food will appeal to your target audience. 


2. Decide on a USP: Once you've ascertained what type of food you're going to sell, you'll need to decide on what is going to be your unique selling point (USP). For example, if you are considering selling Indian food, you may want to concentrate on making dishes that originate from a particular area, such as Kerala. That way, your menu will stand out from the myriad of other Indian restaurants.


3. Optimise the menu: When it comes to a dark kitchen, the menu is key. It's important to ensure your menu is easy to prepare, transport and eat, as well as being a cost-effective option. 

You should also consider offering a variety of options, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, as well as meals that cater to different dietary needs, such as dairy-free. Use customised printed paper flags to signify which meals adhere to certain requirements to avoid any confusion for your customers when they receive their orders.

4. Choose the right location: A dark kitchen does not require a physical shop front, which opens up the possibility of operating in a variety of locations. However, it's important to choose a location that is easily accessible for delivery drivers and has adequate space for food preparation and storage.


It's also important to consider factors such as the cost of rent and utility bills, and whether or not the building will need to be adapted so that it meets safety requirements. Can an extractor fan be fitted? Will you need to add additional fire exits?


5. Purchase the relevant equipment: Once you have chosen your location, you'll need to buy the equipment needed to prepare the food. To keep costs low, keep an eye out for second-hand equipment on sites such as eBay and Gumtree. Remember to get it checked by a specialist, and carry out regular maintenance and services to ensure its fit for purpose.


6. Invest in technology: Running a dark kitchen requires the use of technology to manage orders, track inventory, and communicate with customers. Consider investing in a point-of-sale system that integrates with food delivery apps, as well as a customer relationship management system to keep track of customer favourites and orders.


Using a customer relationship management system will allow you to create loyalty programs tailored specifically to your customer's preferences, helping you to entice them into re-ordering from your establishment. 


7. Elevate marketing and branding: Given that a dark kitchen operates without a physical shop front, it's crucial to have a strong online presence and solid marketing strategy to attract customers. Utilise social media and food delivery apps to promote your menu and specials, and consider offering deals and discounts to attract new clientele.


To build a strong brand identity as a dark kitchen, you'll need to ensure your branding is consistent. When a customer receives their delivery, the first thing they'll see is the paper bag that's encasing their order. First impressions count, which is why it's worth investing in paper bags that are customised with your logo and branding.


If you are a pizza delivery company, consider investing in branded pizza boxes. To keep costs low, you could use plain pizza boxes and then customise them with a branded rubber stamp.


8. Partner with delivery services: Partnering with one or more delivery services, such as Uber Eats or Deliveroo, can help you reach more customers and increase visibility. Outsourcing deliveries to a third party means you can avoid overheads such as the cost of petrol and insurance for the delivery vehicles. However, be aware that these services take a percentage of the sale, so make sure to factor that into your pricing.


9. Keep an eye on costs: Running a dark kitchen can be a cost-effective takeaway food solution, as it doesn't require a physical shop space. That being said, it's important to keep an eye on costs, particularly when it comes to food, labour, and delivery expenses. To keep costs under control, consider using a cloud-based accounting system, such as Xero, to track expenses, and regularly review your menu to ensure that you are not overspending on ingredients.

Putting in the time to understand the food delivery market, optimise your menu, choose the right location, invest in technology, and implement effective marketing and branding strategies, will significantly increase your chances of success.

If you're considering opening a dark kitchen and require branded packaging, please don't hesitate to get in touch. We have a variety of affordable, high-quality packaging options available that can be customised to suit your requirements.

Tags: dark kitchen, cloud kitchen, ghost kitchen, virtual kitchen, printed paper bags, printed pizza boxes, printed burger boxes, printed food flags