The rise of ghost kitchens took off during the pandemic, as businesses saw a new opportunity to deliver on rapidly changing customer needs. Big brands are getting in on the action — Chili’s, for example, generated an additional $150M per year in revenue with their virtual brand It’s Just Wings, according to CNBC.
But, how do ghost kitchens drive local business so quickly and successfully from launch?
In this article, you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions about local marketing for ghost kitchens, particularly for multi-location brands managing this innovative foodservice format at scale.
What is a Ghost Kitchen?
A ghost kitchen is a virtual restaurant or food production brand that doesn’t operate out of its own physical brick-and-mortar location. Ghost kitchens might lease space from another restaurant, share space and even chefs with other ghost kitchen brands, or be an extension of an existing restaurant brand.
How Do Ghost Kitchens Work?
Having a strong online presence is essential to any ghost kitchen’s success, as they do not have a traditional location for customers to visit. Typically, discovery happens online through Google Search, food delivery apps, and social media. Most ghost kitchens offer delivery service only so that customers never actually visit the location where food is being prepared.
Why are Ghost Kitchens So Popular?
As traditional businesses were shuttered and local consumers sought food delivery services in mass, ghost kitchens emerged as part of the solution for both restaurateurs and the diners they serve. In fact, RestaurantDive estimates that the Coronavirus pandemic accelerated the ghost kitchen trend by five years in just three months.
Ghost kitchens offer entrepreneurs and brands much lower barriers to entry than establishing a takeout or dine-in restaurant. Staffing needs are reduced as orders and payments can be processed online or through an app. The ghost kitchen can use its own delivery employees or contract delivery through a third-party service such as UberEats, GrubHub, or Skip The Dishes, for example.
What are the Benefits of Ghost Kitchens for Enterprise Brands?
A lower barrier to entry may not be the driving force behind a brand’s decision to open a ghost kitchen. Rather, this format can enable brands to:
- Open up quickly in a new market that is currently underserved without making a long-term commitment by building a new store.
- Offer a new product line that would typically be seen as outside of the scope of that brand.
- Better serve the needs of local customers with greater variety in their food delivery options.
How are Brands Using Ghost Kitchens?
Applebee’s is using ghost kitchens in two different ways. In February, the brand announced its Cosmic Wings partnership with UberEats, a ghost kitchen program that offers a Cheetos-inspired menu under the virtual brand. This ghost kitchen operates out of 1,300 existing Applebee’s locations, enabling the brand to launch quickly without the massive investment of building/outfitting 1,300 new stores.
Applebee’s President John Cywinski announced the second way the brand will use ghost kitchens in their Q4 2020 earnings call in March. These ghost kitchen pilot locations are in markets where Applebee’s does not currently have a physical location, making them more of an outpost for the brand than an extension of an existing store.
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers has reportedly been experimenting with different ghost kitchen menus including chicken sandwiches, wings, and healthy, fresh options. The brand is also serving as a ghost kitchen in at least one location for another virtual brand — the MrBeast Burger brand founded by popular YouTuber MrBeast.
Famous Dave’s, a popular BBQ brand, struck a licensing deal with the Johnny Carino’s brand to offer Dave’s menu out of Johnny Carino’s locations.
What Does Google Think of Ghost Kitchens?
When it comes to how ghost kitchens are marketed online, it’s important to keep within Google My Business guidelines to boost visibility and protect the virtual brand’s presence.
“Virtual Kitchens are permitted. Virtual Kitchens are professional food preparation and cooking facilities set up to prepare delivery-only meals via third-party services. They are also referred to as Ghost Kitchens and Cloud Kitchens. A Virtual Kitchen should create their Business Profile as a service area business.”
As a Service-Area Business, your ghost kitchen does require postcard verification.
What do Brands Need to Know About Local Marketing for Ghost Kitchens?
There are a lot of different considerations for brands hopping on the ghost kitchen train.
Your ghost kitchen could be an extension of the existing business — you’re adding a new and differently-branded product line out of your existing locations, for example. In that case, you may want to use the strength of the existing brand to your advantage by adding the ghost kitchen locations to your Store Locator.
On the other hand, the virtual brand could be a completely standalone entity serving markets your existing brand does not. In that case, you may be looking to develop an entirely new web presence at scale for all locations.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- If you add in-person pickup as an option, you can use your existing local listings and avoid the process of having to bulk-verify. Service-Area Business addresses are hidden on that location’s GMB listing, and typically you’ll use the address for verification only.
- Build local restaurant pages. Local Pages build on the experience the searcher has with your listing, providing the rich detail and additional information many customers need in order to convert to an online order. Here, you can display photos, share your menu, embed reviews, and more — and because these are optimized for search, they rank locally in their own right and help build your presence.
- Give each ghost kitchen location its own review profile and GMB. Make sure you have a listing for each of the areas you serve so you are appearing in the MapPack when hungry diners are searching. Monitor and respond to all reviews, positive and negative. Legitimacy is important and you need to build an engaged, active presence quickly to be seen as a trusted food option.
- Add a Yelp profile, if you have the budget. If curious searchers can’t verify that your ghost kitchen location is legit, they’ll simply move on to the next option. You can build a robust presence quickly by claiming profiles on the most popular platforms for restaurant searches.
Want to learn more about local restaurant marketing for multi-location brands and franchises? Here are some more resources: