Curbside pickup aside, ghost kitchens (also called cloud kitchens, dark kitchens, virtual kitchens, or virtual restaurants) have now been a fixture in the restaurant industry. Before Covid-19, just over 14% of restaurants used the virtual kitchen model. Nevertheless, that number skyrocketed to more than 50% by May 2020 and keeps growing. Brick and mortar restaurants have significantly benefited from this restaurant concept. For example, thanks to it, T’s Restaurants increased to $3,000 per day in take out during Covid-19, from $300 in 2018.
As the ghost kitchen model is lean, you can start without lots of overhead like the traditional restaurants. Just prepare meals in a commercial kitchen space without the front of house staff, dining room/ dining area, among others. But on the other hand, there are rules to a virtual restaurant. The biggest one is having a menu that makes you thrive — Sushi X and Anthony's are some success stories in this regard. Keep reading for the best ghost kitchen menu ideas that help make you shine like these.
11 best virtual restaurant menu ideas
1. Prioritize variety
Offer your customers various dishes and concurrently follow your ghost kitchen’s culinary specialty, hence improving your customer base without sacrificing your restaurant business’ identity. Picture this: Mexican street food is your ghost kitchen concept. You may get tomato, and pepper served on some menu items. This way allows you to purchase ingredients in bulk, which means a better deal for you.
Several ways to enhance the variety effectively include:
Discover your restaurant’s closest culinary relatives
For example, Italian and Greek cuisines have lots of ingredients in common.
Leverage special offers
You may experiment with new dishes and schedule reviews before making them permanent ones on your menu with weekly menu item discounts. One2 Menu allows the ability to update your specials and prices instantly.
Find the ingredients for your commissary kitchen menu in the grocer, butcher, and local market. It helps your brands develop a business network in the sector and spread profits across the community.
2. Give customers choices but not too many
The focused menu of ghost kitchen Sam's Crispy Chicken (Image: Oatz)
According to research, over-choice hinders decision-making and can cause customers to not buy. It is also more difficult to manage and more costly. Should you like some dishes and cannot decide what should(not) be on your restaurant menu, offer them in pop-up events, give a special each day, or rotate the dishes.
3. Pick simple items
Fuku's chicken sandwich (Image: The Center Magazine)
The success of most ghost kitchens is associated with speed. Thus, instead of taking your customers’ patience to the brink with time-consuming, complex dishes, pick ones that are easy and fast to make. For instance, chicken fries are versatile (considering various ways of preparing them), delicious, inexpensive to prepare and cook and travel well. The traditional restaurant that runs a ghost kitchen business as well, Fuku is a success story of this.
Besides, we hope you know the items that should be prepared ahead for the maximum speed of fulfilling services. For example:
Toppings (red onions, Kalamata olives, cheese, tomato, nuts for salad toppings, etc.);
Grains & pasta (risotto, brown rice, etc.);
Marinades & Batters;
Sauces (aioli, soy ginger sauce, lemon juice sauce for fried pickles, etc.).
4. Give substitution and add-on options
Providing customers in your virtual restaurants with these options allows them to enjoy their food orders based on their particular tastes and improves your profits per order.
Some ways of offering this customization in your menu include:
Let guests select protein included in their food delivery orders. Recipe options of ham, bacon, cheese/ feta cheese, pork, beef, chicken, etc., can boost the cost-per-plate and empower your guests to make the average meal a luxurious one.
Upgraded side options
From salads, and delicious fries, to potato chips, your customers get the chance to add more to their main meal.
Menu item pairings
From appetizers to desserts, guests can enjoy a full-course meal from virtual restaurants through item pairings. You may encourage them to max out their food orders with third party apps by offering discounts.
5. Have regard to the beverages
Whatever is served at your ghost kitchens, your diners are certain to become thirsty. Offering various drink options works to perfect your customer services and increase your profits.
Some beverage options for your consideration include:
Standard drinks like regular cans and bottles of sodas and juices;
House made drinks like hand-crafted sodas and milkshakes.
6. Ensure your dishes travel well
This take out-based ghost kitchen business model requires the dishes to be transportable. For instance, sushi travels well, can remain fresh in a refrigerator, and is often served cold.
You should alter or avoid recipes that will become soggy and combinations that will turn into a mishmash during delivery, say purees and sauce. Here are some tips for handling this concern:
Set food delivery limits
For instance, your ghost kitchen only provides delivery services within a 20-minute radius to ensure preserved meal quality.
Adjust dish components in delivery orders
For example, as your restaurant delivers food, you may package the special sauce to your trademark fried chicken in a separate container.
Figure out how to keep food dishes on temp and prevent sogginess
For instance, you can pierce holes in your restaurant food containers and double-pack hot meals.
Train your employees
Train them on what every meal order looks like when packed for delivery.
Ask the delivery driver to put your meal first
Third-party delivery services may not always treat your dishes as the most important. Thus, politely ask them to do so.
7. Take share-worthy food photos
Decent food photos substantially affect orders on any third party delivery app. GrubHub reveals that these are tied with a whopping 30% sales increase. According to Deliveroo, they can lead to a 6.5% rise, which is still worth it. Picture this: Your ghost kitchen does $ 5,000 worth of food orders on delivery apps daily. A 6.5% rise is over $320 more each day. In a month, that is more than $9,700.
Here are some tips for taking your ghost kitchen food photos:
Focus on the dish
Your photos are recommended to get as close as possible to what the dish will look like after the delivery.
Work on some photography
This includes lighting (a big no-no to flash), composition (overhead or eye level shot), and editing (for the photo’s improved sharpness, color warmth, etc.)
Make your food photos stand out
For this, your ghost kitchens can leverage non-food elements like a drink or serving board.
8. Be smart about your words
Any restaurant locations, including ghost kitchens, should name their menu items descriptively. Curiosity-invoking and catchy food names and mouth-watering descriptions have impacts on your business performance. For example, the descriptions can boost sales by a whopping 30%.
Also, consider psychological pricing, say $14,95 rather than $14.00. A $0.95 rise will aid your efforts to offset costs like commission fees charged by delivery apps and concurrently look like a better deal to customers. Better yet, you are recommended to use the One2 ordering and fulfillment system that lets you get lower delivery fees and save up to 30% on platform fees on average.
9. Choose the right packaging
Krispy Rice’s trademark branded box that is carbon-neutral (Image: Nation’s Restaurant News)
Brand your packaging where possible. Also, you are recommended to use eco-friendly ones, being a great selling point for your ghost kitchen customers. More than 70% of Gen Z consumers express a willingness to pay more for sustainable services and products.
10. Stand out from the competition
Create a restaurant menu that helps make you first among equals by:
Using the right contactless menu: Cost effective touchless menu from One2 translates your food menu automatically to the languages of your choice. It also publishes it to Google My Business, your website, and social media, boosting your ghost kitchen’s exposure.
Highlighting your unique food items: Make them bold and big.
Improving your business’ branding: Represent your brands through your food items’ names and descriptions.
Including feedback: Ensure your customer feedback is noticeable whenever people search for your ghost kitchen.
11. Create optimal ghost kitchens with the One2 ordering system
One2 is a true turn-key technology solution that helps speed up your restaurant order processing, smoothly offer contact free delivery, manage multiple locations from one account, monitor orders in real-time, and retain and grow your customer base - all with no POS required. Simply put, it is a recipe for success. Contact us for unmatched support.
1. What are the most profitable menu items for my ghost kitchen?
Chicken wing. But you should come up with a wildly new take on the classic food concept to stand out.
2. What Is Retherm?
It means taking previously cooked food, sealing it in a bag, and reheating it to a safe temperature.
Some items that suit this process include:
Rice & Beans;
3. One of the biggest advantages of a ghost kitchen over a traditional restaurant?
Ghost kitchens are a fantastic way of expanding to new markets without spending money and time on a brick and mortar restaurant buildout.
4. What are the full schedule reviews for ghost kitchens?
These set your business plan into the management context. Necessarily, everyone involved reviews the plan periodically and revises it as necessary.
5. How much does a ghost kitchen cost?
The restaurant cost varies by the services, space, and market. You can start this business with as little as $30,000, instead of +$1 million for a traditional restaurant buildout.
6. What are popular food items and ingredients that a ghost kitchen operator should consider?