The Rise of Dark Kitchens in the UK

Katie Paterson

March 1, 2021

The food delivery industry is now worth £4.9bn. There is no doubt that lockdown restrictions have boosted the industry, with 39% of all orders placed through delivery apps.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Uber Eats food delivery business has more than doubled. Even as countries begin to lift restrictions, the demand for Uber Eats has remained.

"There's no question in my mind that there's a fundamental behavioural shift that has gone on," he added later. "People aren't going to stop using Amazon. People aren't going to stop using Uber Eats." Dara Khosrowshahi.

Dark kitchens, also known as virtual kitchens, shadow kitchens, ghost kitchens and delivery-only kitchens are becoming more and more popular to keep up with the demand for delivery food.

What is a dark kitchen?

A dark kitchen is a professional kitchen space where food is prepared for the intention of delivery. There is no customer facing services, no dining areas and no waiting staff.

In the UK, companies such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat offer meals prepared in dark kitchens.

Established eateries can open a dark kitchen to prepare food for delivery without having to over-stretch their existing restaurants with the added pressures of providing delivery food.

The rise of food delivery

With Lockdowns engulfing the country for the majority of the last year, people have turned to takeaway and delivery services to recreate the eating out experience at home. The CGA say that 60% of 18-24 year old’s have increased their use of food delivery services because of the pandemic.

This added pressure of delivery for restaurants to deal with is not feasible when they reopen. The kitchens can only cope with so many orders. Dark kitchens take the pressure off and allows the restaurant kitchens to focus on eat in customers and takeaway.

Benefits of a dark kitchen

The main benefit for a company expanding to dark kitchens is the lower overhead costs. The rent is cheaper than delivering food through an urban location with heavy footfall. There is also less wages to pay with no waiting staff.

Without a physical dining area, there is also lowered costs on the everyday running, there is no repurchasing paper menus, table talkers or crockery.

Dark kitchens also keep delivery drivers out of city centres where it can be too busy to safely navigate through on a bike/moped.

Dark kitchens are predominantly established restaurants who are diverting their delivery traffic away from their restaurants, however individuals can open a dark kitchen and start a delivery only brand for significantly less money and hassle than opening a customer facing restaurant.

Where are dark kitchens

Dark kitchens are said to be the future of delivery food. App Deliveroo have their own dark kitchen infra structure “Deliveroo Editions”. Since 2017, Deliveroo have opened 16 sites across England housing about a hundred stainless kitchens, some with pizza ovens, some geared towards flipping burgers. Deliveroo pay for the bills in these kitchens, making this a cost-effective solution for businesses. All the businesses pay to use the space is a percentage of every sale.

These workspaces are often in preexisting buildings, such as industrial estates. Deliveroo say that the sites bring food and business to locations and consumers that they would otherwise not be able to reach from city and town centre locations.

However, three of the sixteen sites have been given enforcement notices due to fears that food hygiene and allergen control standards are not as high as in high street kitchens. However, the dark kitchens are under the same inspections as the restaurants from the Food Standards Agency. One of Deliveroo Editions has been shut down.

Dark Kitchen criticisms

Dark kitchens have been criticised for being a threat to the high street. Now more than ever we are seeing a decline in the high street, with high street vacancy rates at a five-year high.

Dark kitchens give people another reason to avoid town and city centres. If it becomes easier to order a delivery than go to the restaurant yourself, whether that’s to eat in or pick up a takeaway, you are reducing the footfall in the struggling high streets.

An issue with Deliveroo Editions, is that none of the kitchens are registered as takeaways under planning regulations. In 2017, when Editions was first established, Deliveroo came under fire for not seeking planning permission for their units in unused carparks and industrial estates.

Dark kitchens and virtual brands often create a challenge for enforcement officers who cannot identify where they are located and who is responsible for shared areas in the communal dark kitchens facilitating more than one brand.

This makes any cases of food crime very difficult to trace.

Dark kitchens and food information

The concerns regarding food safety in dark kitchens is a heavily discussed due to the isolated nature of the kitchens. However, the food should be up to restaurant standard with proper systems in place.

At NT Assure, our range of software solutions have been created to ensure food business operators can use ingredients and produce dishes where they know exactly what is in their food, allowing them to pass accurate information to their customers.

Smart Chef is our menu management system which shows chefs exactly how to build each dish. Having this information on hand in the kitchen minimises the chance of error. Those who suffer from allergies will feel confident knowing that their meal was prepared using a specialist menu management system.

Smart Chef’s data is updated in real-time as your supply chain information changes, providing a collaborative environment for your team to work in and can be passed to our print solution, Smart Menu.

For more information please call 01933 272089 or email info@ntassure.com

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References

The New Dawn For UK High Streets: Change Or Die (forbes.com)

Deliveroo's dark kitchens: Investigation reveals meals from famous brands are cooked in CAR PARKS | Daily Mail Online

Does your dinner come from a 'dark kitchen'? - BBC News

Deliveroo accused of ignoring planning rules... - The Caterer

Report and guide to restaurant takeaway and delivery technology and best practice (bighospitality.co.uk)

PowerPoint Presentation (cga.co.uk)