There are few things that are guaranteed to bring people together more than a shared love of food. We all need it to survive, of course, but there’s so much enjoyment to be had from even the simplest dish that it can often prove a real highlight of the day.
For some, much of the pleasure is derived from experimenting in the kitchen and coming up with new culinary delights at home. For others, it’s more about the fine dining experience of heading out to a restaurant and having someone else do all the hard work for you. There is another option, of course – that of the takeaway.
No longer solely restricted to a greasy kebab or portion of chips after a night out, those in the food industry have diversified their offering to cater for the changing needs of the consumer. Dark kitchens have played a pivotal role in this shift, but what exactly are they and why have they become increasingly common?
What is a dark kitchen?
Also known as virtual kitchens, ghost kitchens or cloud kitchens, dark kitchens are physical spaces where food businesses can make the meals that they sell on a delivery-only basis. A lot of dark kitchens are run as shared spaces, where individual vendors operate from separate cooking areas within the same building.
The likes of Deliveroo run some of these facilities on a rent-free basis, making them a hugely cost-effective option for enterprises who do not have to worry about the overheads associated with using their own premises.
They still have to invest in their ingredients and any specialist equipment as well as PPE and anti-fatigue mats to look after the wellbeing of their staff, who are on their feet preparing food for long periods of the day.
Why the surge in popularity?
The coronavirus pandemic altered many aspects of our everyday lives, including our dining habits. With hospitality venues closed to help limit the spread of the virus, restaurants and food outlets were forced to pivot and adapt their strategy.
Prior to the pandemic, takeaways accounted for 8% of the value of the food sector while third-party platforms such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats were thriving. November 2019 research from Deloitte revealed that in London alone an extra 900,000 meals were delivered each week as consumers enjoyed the speed and convenience of ordering from home.
And once lockdown was announced in March 2020, businesses had to offer a takeaway service rather than in-house eating. With dining areas obsolete but cooking facilities still required, dark kitchens began to crop up and it’s a trend that looks here to stay.