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Checkit Marketing Mar 2, 2022 4:19:20 PM 6 min read

Why dark kitchens highlight need for kitchen management software

The public’s growing appetite for food delivery has served up a rapid rise in the opening of dark kitchens. Also known as ghost kitchens, they seem to be sprouting up everywhere. But operators seeking a slice of the pie will need to tread carefully to keep brand reputation, quality and safety standards high. Kitchen management software could light the way forward for dark kitchens. Let's find out why.

Whether you’re a restaurant operator, food brand or supplier of dark kitchen services, you’ll know that this emerging space opens up exciting commercial opportunities but also a distinct set of risks. There are several considerations you’ll need to keep in mind.

Dark kitchens can present complicated operational challenges, particularly when multiple brands are involved. Kitchen management software can help firms gain visibility over local activity while driving efficient production.

Before we get into the main course, let’s start with a simple definition.

What are dark kitchens?

Dark kitchens – also known as ghost kitchens, delivery kitchens and cloud kitchens – are dedicated to producing food for delivery. They don’t have dining areas or storefronts because they are not designed to host visitors. You could drive past a dark kitchen without even realising. They have been bubbling up below the surface for several years, but the pandemic put some extra heat under the trend.

Lockdown conditions caused a rapid rise in takeout and food delivery as on-site dining became difficult. And despite the easing of restrictions, the public appetite for food delivery shows no signs of waning. In the US, 60% of consumers order takeout or delivery at least once a week. It is estimated that online ordering is growing 300% faster than in-house dining. In the UK, more than eight out of 10 consumers say they are ordering deliveries with the same or higher frequency than a year ago, despite there being fewer restrictions.

But that’s not the only factor. Restaurant operators are also contending with supply chain disruption, staff shortages and rising overheads, including property, energy, staffing and ingredients.

Dark kitchens address all of these challenges. They are usually much smaller than restaurants and are situated away from popular retail locations, adding to lower rents. Dark kitchens also require fewer staff and less energy. Production is more easily turned up or down depending on demand patterns due to the more flexible nature of the business model. Innovation is also streamlined as different menus and food concepts can be tested, revised and updated. It’s a highly efficient way to provide food.

Even before the pandemic, the ghost kitchens industry was valued at $43.1bn. That figure could almost double by 2027, according to estimates.

Popular brands including Wendy’s, Quiznos and Applebee’s are rubbing shoulders with smaller food start-ups in the race to get dark kitchens up and running. Food delivery firms, dedicated dark kitchen service specialists and supermarkets are also switching on to the opportunity.

But the challenge they all face - especially when scaling up quickly – is maintaining food safety standards and ensuring adherence to brand guidelines consistently across all locations.

By their very nature, dark kitchens operate away from the direct glare of consumers, brand managers and regional supervisors. They also typically operate outside of regular working hours, which is another barrier to visibility.

So how can leaders ensure the correct procedures and protocols are upheld to keep quality standards from slipping and to ensure compliance with food safety regulations?

The answer is that they must depend on technology rather than relying purely on physical presence. Kitchen management software can be the eyes and ears of dark kitchen operations.

3 key advantages for dark kitchens using kitchen management software

Let's look at three ways kitchen management software can help dark kitchen operators ensure safe and efficient production of high quality food.

Remove risk from food storage with automated monitoring

Fridges, freezers and hot-hold units require regular checks to ensure safe temperatures stay within acceptable limits. But during busy periods, staff might forget to carry out checks. Even if checks are carried out on schedule, it’s impossible to account for what happened in the hours since the previous check.

Technical faults, doors left open, and unplugged units can all cause temperature fluctuations. Apart from the threat to food safety, there’s the risk of losing valuable stock and subsequently struggling to fulfil customer orders.

The Internet of Things has a role to play here. As part of a kitchen management software platform, IoT sensors enable automated monitoring technology that keeps temperatures under surveillance 24/7. The system triggers alarms and notifications as soon as agreed parameters are breached.

Checkit recently added mobile alerting to its platform, which not only directs alerts straight to the mobile devices of nearby staff but also gives them step-by-step guidance on how to deal with the problem – moving stock to an adjacent unit, for example. And a complete record is stored in the cloud for compliance and auditing purposes. Real-time reporting creates peace of mind for managers who cannot be on-site around the clock. Kitchen management software also saves time. One food outlet using Checkit saves 10 hours per location by digitising its food safety activity.

Standard operating procedures are reinforced by kitchen management software

Kitchen management has historically been conducted via paper checklists and spreadsheets. However, these are easily spoiled in a busy kitchen. They are also vulnerable to error and falsification.

Forward-looking operators are replacing outdated checklists with digital assistants that prompt, guide and capture the essential activity of kitchen staff. Standard operating procedures can be configured centrally and rolled out to all staff via mobile devices. This encourages best practice, reminds staff of their obligations and reduces the risk of human error.

Being user-friendly and fast to deploy, digital assistants are a valuable training tool for new or temporary staff to ensure the right things are done, at the right time, and in the right place. QR code scanning and automatic time-stamping mean the location and time of activity are captured for off-site managers. Staff can even take photographs as evidence and link these images to their digital report.

Checkit users consistently tell us that digital assistants increase engagement and personal responsibility for food safety. One organisation using Checkit saw compliance with standard operating procedures increase from 25% to 95% within two months.

Strengthen confidence with kitchen management software

It’s crucial for dark kitchens to build confidence with brand partners and reassure customers of their high standards.

The pandemic has made safety precautions an even bigger priority for the public. Increasing numbers of customers want reassurance that staff are washing their hands, wearing masks and gloves during meal prep and keeping surfaces sanitised. Reduction of food waste is another priority on the radar of consumers.

The right kitchen management software not only reinforces best practice among remote teams but provides evidence that the proper steps are being taken.

Reporting tools provide managers with a real-time view of kitchen activity that might have been previously hidden. This reduces the need for managers to travel between sites for physical inspections. It also means additional support or training can be targeted towards the teams that most need help. Benchmarks can be established to compare locations and reward top performance.

Dashboard reports help operators satisfy regulatory and audit requirements and provide evidence to commercial partners that specific brand standards are being met. Many dark kitchens cater for several brands at once and need clear delineation between different menus and processes.


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Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash


Checkit Marketing

Content & Communications Manager at Checkit