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Opinion: Ghost kitchens may shake up restaurant strategies

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The age-old concept of eating food at home has become an increasingly fresh topic amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay-at-home rules early in the pandemic led many to boost their monthly allowance for food deliveries, as evidenced by record earnings reports from food delivery companies such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. While lockdown rules are no longer in play, a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant is wreaking havoc in southwest Missouri, leaving some of us to consider whether eating inside a restaurant is a smart decision. And so, we turn to third-party delivery companies once again.

Already, we’ve seen the impact this shift has caused locally with the likes of Tortilleria Perches, which stepped up its curbside service and added family pack dinners to accommodate customers who prefer not to eat in a public place. Many local restaurants are available on DoorDash and similar apps, and while the cost is certainly higher to consumers, convenience can be worth paying for, especially when public health is a factor.

An interesting side effect of this environment has emerged in what’s known as a ghost kitchen. Though restaurant-industry officials say ghost kitchens already were in development before the pandemic, the concept is now gaining traction and has some real staying power.

A ghost kitchen is a restaurant that is not open to outside customers and solely exists to fill deliveries. Chefs and restaurateurs who favor these kitchens cite lower costs in real estate, staffing and operational expenses, and they say it’s getting the exact food customers want  in their own homes in a more streamlined approach, according to a recent report from Insider.

Insider’s examination of ghost kitchens was brought on by an announcement from fast-food chain Wendy’s that it would open 700 of them in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada by 2025. It’s an interesting play for Wendy’s, considering media reports show a vast majority of sales come through the restaurants’ drive-thru windows. I’m curious to see how a ghost kitchen location would compare in revenue with a restaurant that does high-volume drive-thru sales.

The idea of ghost kitchens is reminiscent of a concept we already have in Springfield called Gopuff. Through an app, customers order a variety of items typically found in a grocery store, and they’re delivered to the user’s residence. What’s different here than, say, Walmart residential delivery is you cannot shop directly at Gopuff’s physical location. In fact, company officials wouldn’t even tell me where the local operations center was when we reported on their entry into the market in 2019. 

I’ve personally used Gopuff myriad times, and convenience is the big reason. Even when the economy can fully open in a post-COVID world, I am likely to keep using Gopuff. It’s become habitual.

I suspect the same will happen with food delivery, as customers will get so used to it that it will be preferred over the in-restaurant experience. In that environment, concepts like ghost kitchens will thrive.

The challenge will be for local restaurants to adapt to this new world. As mentioned, Tortilleria Perches has adapted, and their model may forever be changed as the company opens a separate catering location, according to the recent Springfield Business Journal article, “Opportunity Amid Crisis.”

The concept of a contactless world is still a new one, and for some, I don’t see it ever taking hold. But for others who adapt to and even favor it, ghost kitchens, food delivery and other novel ideas likely will take a chunk of the market share. As one of those consumers, I’m watching closely to see how it all pans out.

Springfield Business Journal Digital Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at


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