Ghost Kitchens Continue to Mystify Hungry Consumers

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 31, 2021

Ghost Kitchens Continue to Mystify Hungry Consumers
  (Source:Getty Images)

Chicken lovers apparently love their Cosmic Wings, which is reportedly making hundreds of thousands of dollars per week. Would you believe Cosmic Wings is the profitable result of a ghost kitchen, delivery-only enterprise by Applebee's?

A Food & Wine feature looks at the phenomenon of ghost kitchens —delivery-only restaurants operating in existing facilities — which emerged before the pandemic and have continued to flourish. Other well-established brands such as kid-centric pizza parlor Chuck E. Cheese and hot dog vendor Nathan's are grabbing some extra business with Pasqually's Pizza & Wings and Wings of New York, respectively.

On the consumer side, some patrons have thought they were helping support local businesses. One customer who ordered from Pasqually's became suspicious after receiving her order, texting her Grubhub driver, "just curious, was this food from Chuck E. Cheese?" The driver responded that when he picked up the food to deliver, it was from a Chuck E. Cheese location that had the Pasqually's logo slapped across the business's window.

Because ghost kitchens are virtual businesses, those that aren't successful can shut down quickly. Or, as Food & Wine notes, rebrand just as fast. Applebee's tested different wings brands until they hit on their successful Cosmic Wings brand. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Applebee's simply changed the name and sent their chicken to customers under a different brand.

John Peyton, CEO of Dine Brands — the company that owns Applebee's — told the Wall Street Journal, "To make an impression, you have to be original and fresh."

Many have lauded ghost kitchens as the culinary wave of the future, allowing chains and virtual brands to market their products under the guise of a "new" restaurant, enabling customers to order food from an app without a lot of overhead costs. Kitchens can weed out products we aren't consuming and pillage their menus for food items we do respond to, give it a new name, and boom! Success a la Cosmic Wings.

"But what they really are," Grub Street contends of ghost kitchens, "is a trend that manages, triumphantly, to strip away all joy from the act of eating. They are devoid of every feature that makes restaurants great." Rather than offering an "original and fresh" product, as Peyton describes of Cosmic Wings, ghost kitchens are, as Grub Street argues, "food-logistics operations."

Furthermore, Grub Street states, "Delivery is many things: convenient, luxurious, sometimes festive, often disappointing, and at certain points during this pandemic, it's all we have had," states Grub Street. "But delivery is neither spontaneous nor surprising.

"Looking at the evidence... historically, delivery-only concepts have perpetually failed."

Perhaps Food & Wine's analogy sums up ghost kitchens best: Restaurants that have changed hands bear an "Under New Management" sign in the window, an attempt to assuage consumer fears that our favorite culinary experiences have been changed for the worse. But as Food & Wine remind us, "with virtual restaurants, you won't see any proverbial signage hanging outside."

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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