We’ve embarked on a new way of eating in this country. A few swipes on a smartphone and we can get a meal delivered from any of a huge range of restaurants. What few of us realise, though, is that many of these meals don’t come from restaurants at all. They come from dark kitchens. These are windowless boxes on industrial estates. In this post I explore why this is bad for us all
In general, there are three ways a dark kitchen can emerge:
- An individual can set up a dark kitchen to start their own brand. They then identify this with their own online restaurant.
- Existing restaurants can opt to start a ghost restaurant next to their already established restaurant. In this case the restaurant provides food from their kitchen for a different brand name. A Mexican burrito restaurant could prepare pizzas as well, and sell these online under another brand. But they do not sell these dishes in their physical restaurant. This attracts consumers who want pizza without making them sceptical about them being made in a Mexican burrito kitchen.
- Often owned by big companies they crank out food in the restaurant’s name. These delivery platforms such as UberEats and Deliveroo. A firm owned by former Uber chief Travis Kalanick, for example, has acquired a start-up. This operates more than 100 dark kitchens across London alone.
Dark kitchens and customer feedback
Of course, the restaurants love all the above models. It allows them them to boost their capacity at a low cost. But in the long term the trend towards treating restaurant food as just another mass-produced “widget” must be bad for the trade and diners alike. A good restaurateur, chef or home cook stares supplier and diner in the eye every day. But when you insert new intermediaries who don’t have to look anybody in the eye. You get no feedback, both good and bad. And if you don’t get any feedback then how can you hope to improve?