Restaurants across the country and the world are getting rid of dining rooms, as delivery apps and the gig economy have upended the business model that previously worked for centuries, Yahoo Finance reports.
Until recently, customers either dined at a restaurant or took their meals to go. While there have always been restaurants that deliver, particularly in larger cities, people have generally opted to pick up their food in person.
Now, a slew of delivery apps — including Uber Eats, Door Dash, and GrubHub, among others — are effectively “upending” the traditional restaurant business model. For a modest surcharge of a few bucks, diners can have restaurant food at their door without ever having to leave the house, whether they’re ordering fast food like Chick-Fil-A, fast-casual food like Applebee’s, or even food prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.
With fewer diners to occupy the seats, some restaurants are closing their dining rooms altogether and running their businesses out of a kitchen — without even as much as a cash register.
The industry calls them “ghost kitchens,” and that’s proven to be an apt descriptor.
In a nondescript building in Chicago, with no signage and nothing to indicate what’s behind the doors, you may find a handful of employees knocking out Chick-Fil-A food just for the food-delivery app side of the business. At that same kitchen, you could find other employees knocking out food for other restaurants — all for the food-delivery business.
Currently, the new business model appears to only be working for chain businesses with a recognized presence among would-be diners. Culinary school-educated chefs have already tried — and failed — to get delivery-only places off the ground in popular cities like San Francisco and New York, only to be stymied by lack of demand.
However, that may be changing in the near future. Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens recently got $400 million in investment money from Saudi Arabia. According to the CloudKitchen website, the startup intends to make kitchens available to rent, lowering costs for potential tenants.
Does that mean the day will come when nobody wants to eat in a restaurant dining room anymore, resulting in traditional seated restaurants continuing to be phased out? Chopt Chief Marketing Officer Julie Atkinson is confident that customer convenience will ultimately win the day.
“We are sensing a really huge customer need for speed, for convenience. We’re hopeful that this concept really raises the bar on customer convenience,” Atkinson said.