How would you like it if all of the fast food and fast casual restaurants you frequented had no dining room? What if they had no way in which you could go and eat there? The only way you could get food from these kitchens is by ordering on an app and either having the food delivered or going to pick the food up at a drive-thru? Maybe it will be a third-party kitchen trailer that will sling out the food of four or five fast food companies. Well, you aren’t going to have to wait much longer to find out, because digital kitchens and ghost kitchens are proving themselves useful in this new post-Covid world.

Fast food (QSR’s) and fast casual restaurants are not traditionally optimized for delivery. But Covid changed our habits, and it turned out that after just two years, we’re in love with having our Chipotle or McDonald’s delivered by Door Dash or UberEATS. Food companies saw this coming and optimized, and in some cases debuted, their apps and rewards programs.

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They also eventually realized that labor shortages that couldn’t be overcome had to be dealt with. Traditional brick and mortar QSR’s need people to clean tables, mop floors, and stock napkins, among other customer-related tasks. We got used to pulling up to some places and finding that only the drive-thru was open because there was only enough staff for that service. Well, companies saw the opportunity and said to themselves, “Ok, then maybe we can start building places that are only for pickup and delivery. People seem to like the convenience and now the delivery apps are offering us contracts.”. And that’s how a whole new culture of eating was born.

We’re starting to see it. Chipotle announced its first Chipotlane Digital Kitchen in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio in December, 2021. Orders must be placed online or through third-party delivery partners and picked up. There is no front line or dining room.

Chipotle’s new digital kitchen.

Wendy’s plans to open 700 ghost kitchens in a partnership with REEF. Ghost kitchens differ from digital kitchens in that customers can not pick up, they can only use delivery partners. Wendy’s aims to use the strategy to get into underserved areas in which they are under-represented. Ghost kitchens also help to address the issue of foods that don’t travel well. Not needing much real-estate, they can be put in high population areas where deliveries don’t have to travel far.

Wendy’s ghost kitchen partnership with REEF.

Taco Bell will open the country’s first two-story, four-lane drive-thru in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota this summer. Three of the lanes will be for digital or delivery order pickups only. The kitchen sits above the drive-thru lanes.

The two-story, four-lane Taco Bell

McDonald’s opened up its first ghost kitchen in London……in 2019! London’s delivery-obsessed culture and McDonald’s partnership with UberEATS made the venture possible, but McDonald’s is looking into expanding the format. The MyMcDonald’s app is currently the most popular and most downloaded ordering app in the country.

We live at a time when up to 60% of foodservice occasions are off-premises sales, according to the National Restaurant Association. Those are sales including drive-thru, delivery, and carry-out. That percentage is likely to increase.

Look, you know it, I know it, we all know it. It’s just too convenient and easy to order and pick up or have it delivered. Think of how much time you’ve wasted waiting for food. Now, you place the order, continue what you were doing, and either run out and pick it up, bypassing the lines, or answer the doorbell when it arrives. I don’t know about you, but a McDonald’s dining room is not my idea of a night out. The dining room is virtually unnecessary, so why not just make it all pickup and delivery?