COVID-19 drove chicken foodservice toward virtual concepts

With dining rooms closed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, virtual concepts like ghost kitchens have made it easier for consumers looking to order food to eat off-premises.

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(Brinker International)
(Brinker International)

With dining rooms closed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, virtual concepts like ghost kitchens have made it easier for consumers looking to order food to eat off-premises.

Ghost kitchens

Ghost kitchens are kitchens unattached to dining rooms. Typically, they are production facilities that produce meals for delivery-only or takeout. These locations feature no guest amenities, like dining rooms or bathrooms.

Sometimes, ghost kitchens are a part of a larger facility. Like an apartment building, multiple branded kitchens like Chick-Fil-A or Buffalo Wild Wings operate in one facility. The food is delivered via third-party delivery operators, like Grubhub or Uber Eats.

“We’ve seen a wide range of different types of use cases. I’ve been working with a lot of sellers that operate like a food hall with multiple concepts using the same kitchen. I’ve also seen a lot of restaurants shift their business operations to see how they can repurpose their current facilities, like operating dual concepts in one kitchen,” Carla Losak, Product Lead, Square for Restaurants, said November 22 during Rethinking the Restaurant Model: Ghost kitchens, virtual concepts and other new approaches.

For example, one location could be a coffee shop in the beginning of the day, but then transition into a different concept at night.

Virtual concepts

The second type is the kitchen of an existing restaurant that does double duty as a production facility for a different concept. These are typically known as virtual concepts.

Virtual concepts don’t exist outside of an app or e-commerce website. These are mainly designed to improve SEO or search optimization to attract consumers searching for one particular food they are craving, like chicken wings.

For example, Brinker International launched It’s Just Wings, in June 2020. The virtual wing brand currently generates $3 million in weekly sales and could be worth more than $150 million in its first yearBloomin’ Brands, the parent company of Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill, recently opened a delivery-only chicken chain called Tender Shack.

“This is where you’ll see limited time offer items that are promoted online, typically through social media, or coming through a third-party delivery system,” Losak said. “Consumers typically have no idea that these brands operate out of another brand’s kitchen.”

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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