How to successfully operate a virtual restaurant?

Virtual restaurants are a trend which is quickly becoming commonplace in the food service sector, and there are strong indications that it is here to stay. The annually growing numbers of food delivery orders and the pandemic crisis are factors which have undoubtedly encouraged restaurateurs to promptly adapt to a new way of operating. The delivery-only model has worked well, allowing businesses to stay afloat despite the ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions.

What is a ghost kitchen?

Ghost kitchen, dark kitchen, shadow kitchen – all these names stand for the same operating model – a restaurant concept whose menu can only be tasted as a delivery option. Such a venue is devoid of tables, waiters and atmospheric dining interiors. All communication takes place online (via the Internet or by phone) – once prepared, the meals are collected by drivers who deliver them directly to customers. 

Although consumer lifestyles are continuously evolving, statistics show that the food delivery market continues to expand, and the convenience of ordering is successfully competing (and winning) with traditional restaurant outings. All this gives restaurant owners more courage to try out brand-new models of running their business – especially since smaller investments (and virtual restaurants require much less start-up investment than traditional ones) are also associated with less risk.

Ghost kitchens – advantages and disadvantages 

Not having to provide physical space for diners equals huge savings in time and money – virtual kitchens require less capital. The location alone can make all the difference – you no longer need to pay for a representative, high-traffic location, choosing a cheaper neighbourhood instead. 

Communication with virtual restaurant customers takes place through advertising and the venue’s presence on popular food ordering platforms, and this allows restaurants to reach entirely new customer segments. There are two sides to this coin, however. The total dependence on external platforms and the need to stay visible to customers can prove quite risky to any business.

Despite its many advantages, virtual restaurants tend to find it more difficult to build a strong brand and carry out marketing activities. Customers will not see your restaurant sign on their way to work – you need to reach them directly.

Special attention also must be paid to the internal organisation of food delivery and getting it just right – we will go on to explain why this aspect is absolutely crucial to the success of the entire project. 

How to avoid the most common mistakes made by virtual restaurants

One of the biggest mistakes restaurateurs make is assuming that a restaurant of this type does not require as much attention as a traditional eatery. The failure to have a suitable marketing and management strategy will quickly make its presence felt.

Satisfactory order handling is particularly important in the case of virtual restaurants, as this is practically the only point of contact between the customer and the venue. Customer rating cannot be further influenced by the décor, the ambience, the contact with the waiter, or the overall experience – efficient communication and fast order handling are the only aspects which allow us to make a good impression on the customer. Ordinary experiences from visits to a brick-and-mortar restaurant contribute to customers’ sentiment toward the venue and influence their assessment of the delivery orders. In the case of virtual kitchens, this element is missing – delivery, as the only sales channel, must be exquisitely organised to meet consumer expectations. 

What does this mean in practice? A virtual kitchen is in need of efficient, central management of all orders (coming from the restaurant’s own channels and external platforms) so that orders always reach customers on time.

Any savings are therefore worth investing in aspects which are key for this type of business – synchronisation and automation of the entire delivery process – from order taking, through production, to delivering food to customers. A tool for managing orders which are coming in from several different sources can be a decisive factor in the success or failure of the business. A well-managed delivery process controlled in-house additionally provides restaurants with independence from external platforms, which in turn reduces commissions charged by food ordering applications.

Papu.io – a tool tailor-made for virtual restaurants 

Papu.io software was designed specially for restaurants with their own drivers. Using three separate interfaces, the system ensures synchronisation and automation of delivery order fulfilment at all key stages:

  1. From order acceptance in the dispatcher panel, which integrates all orders placed online, i.e. from food ordering portals and the online webshop, into one central view, where the waiter or dispatcher can easily assign orders to drivers using the map provided. 
  2. When staying in contact with drivers – each driver working for the restaurant is given access to an app designed to accept and collect delivery orders. The app allows drivers to check the details of the order, map out the route to be taken and contact the person who placed the order in an emergency.
  3. When communicating with the kitchen staff – the KDS app was created to facilitate the flow of information between the person taking orders and the kitchen staff, who have an easy overview of all existing orders in a central window. The kitchen staff also receive real-time information about the arrival time of the driver at the premises and the amount of time left to deliver the food to the customer.

 

Aren’t these aspects vital for all restaurants, not just ghost kitchens? Of course, but in a business such as a virtual restaurant, effectiveness related to the number of orders handled and the time needed to do that, as well as the restaurant’s process optimisation potential, are the most important ingredients for success. Efficient processes and streamlined management ensure the highest quality and organisational accuracy of the delivery service. These factors also minimise the risk of errors in communication and logistics. 

Optimising delivery times in virtual restaurants

Research indicates that, for the customer, the most important factor affecting the overall satisfaction rating is the conformity of the driver’s arrival time with the estimate made on placing the order. To achieve this, efficient management of suppliers and the kitchen staff is essential – this is where algorithms that allow real-time estimation of the restaurant’s capabilities come to the rescue. 

Such an automated tool also helps to streamline operations and ensure that delivery times are compliant with those quoted to customers. The Papu.io system calculates the so-called estimated time of arrival (ETA) based on information such as the workload of the kitchen staff and of the drivers, the time of day and week, the journey time, driver vehicle type, town and even the method of placing the order. This makes the delivery time visible to the consumer as accurate as possible.

Communicating with consumers in ghost kitchens 

If your brand does not have a brick-and-mortar outlet and the only customer interaction is online, the restaurant’s website will be your most important method of communicating with your target audience. 

It goes without saying that it should be attractive but, above all, it should be highly functional. Good UX, i.e. customer user experience, is absolutely fundamental if you want your customers to place orders via your website and not only by means of external food ordering applications. 

Make sure that your ordering process is simple and intuitive and menu browsing is enjoyable. The sum of small elements such as the positioning and visibility of buttons, clear CTA messages, suitable contrast, and the simple process of finalising the shopping cart translates into an overall customer experience and satisfaction. No less important is the attractive presentation of the available dishes: good quality photos, detailed descriptions with a list of ingredients and potential allergens – all these elements will also encourage your customers to return to your website. 

Maximum profit – risk minimisation 

If your business is in need of some fresh air and you are searching for new operating patterns – the ghost kitchen concept may be for you. A large share of restaurants introduce to their portfolio additional brands which are exclusively available online – such a solution is an excellent method of putting your new concept to the test. 

Taking into consideration the much lower outlays needed to start your new venture, once you ensure suitable management and optimisation of the order handling process, a virtual kitchen is a relatively low-risk investment, while profits may positively exceed your expectations. 

 



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Papukurier sp. z o.o.
ul. Sowińskiego 18A, 60-283 Poznań
tel. +48 506 199 047
kontakt@papu.io

NIP: 7792433088
REGON: 36202821600000
KRS: 0000567424
Kapitał zakładowy: 34 850,00 zł
Sąd Rejonowy Poznań – Nowe Miasto i Wilda
VIII Wydział Gospodarczy KRS