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"fill that food hole" | spooky kitchens #6
February 11, 2022. Spooky hotels, more meta-raunts, and a possible future of pizza.
Happy Friday y’all,
First thing’s first: you can also read this on the web, with slightly better aesthetics than your inbox. Just FYI.
Now, to (a lighter week in) the news:
So what happened this week? (TL;DR)
Now fire room service!
introducing: the spooky hotel
C3 takes over in-room dining at The Westin Las Vegas Hotel & Spa (Aneurn Canham-Clyde, Restaurant Dive).
C3’s deal. With this agreement (see article title) plus those with Graduate Hotels and Mandalay Bay Casino, C3 now serves over 75,000 hotel rooms worldwide (according to C3). Guests at The Westin and those other properties are able to order from any or all of C3’s available brands — a variety that most hotels would find hard to match (though, with the emphasis on faster-food, quite a different menu than most traditional room service, too). The “fastest growing food tech platform” is all in on hotels as an opportunity, and (at least publicly) has the firmest hold on that niche of all ghost kitchens.
The prop. Hotel room service had already been in aggregate decline by the time the pandemic rolled through, so when it did, many hotels found themselves (and still find themselves) with low-staffed kitchens that struggled to earn their keep or, in many cases, even offer a desirable product to guests. Enter ghost kitchens, that can provide guests a selection of food from many different cuisines but aren’t completely dependent on rollercoaster hotel occupancies or seasonality to be successful. Seems like a match made in…a plague. (Here’s a further blog on the subject from hospitality.net)
REEF’s 2ndKitchen. The other company in this space (though it’s likely more ghost kitchens are poking and prodding as well) is REEF, with their recent acquisition of 2ndKitchen. 2ndKitchen was built (in Chicago) to connect bars without kitchens to nearby restaurants or ghost kitchens to fill that food hole (not to be confused with my mouth). A great idea; and one I wish was more available at many kitchen-less drinking establishments at the prime food decision-making time of 1am. Another seemingly neat fit for hotels looking to update their food situation; but again, how well it really works has yet to be confirmed.
🍕 Dominos dividends at risk from debt & dark kitchens (John Kingham, Seeking Alpha). Much has been written in the US about the effects of third-party food delivery (and competition) on the pizza delivery market; especially the big pizza chains that were practically synonymous with delivery until a few years ago. This article on Domino’s UK contains both a solid synopsis of those effects as well as a look ahead at what the US’s Big Pizza may expect. Dark kitchens are more ubiquitous throughout the UK than the US, thanks to Deliveroo’s head start in our industry and the smaller overall market, which means more kitchens close to consumers, and thus shorter delivery times, a better customer experience, and potentially greater loyalty. The US has a lot of ground to cover until ghost kitchens reach that coverage threshold — but once they do (or as they do), Big Pizza may find itself in increasingly hotter waters.
🍔 McDonald’s files trademark for metaverse-based “virtual restaurant” (Mason Bissada, Forbes). Linguistics, Live! The definition of the term “virtual restaurant”
may be is evolving. It just makes more sense when applied to fully digitally-constructed metaverse restaurants (which I still think are a ways off from being a real thing) versus its current use as the descriptor for virtual brands (the It’s Just Wings, Bad Mutcha Cluckas, and MrBeast Burgers of the world) that exist only on websites or third-party marketplaces. That’s because, well, the new “virtual restaurant” will be an actual virtual restaurant; complete with a three-dimensional space to stand inside of, walk around, and interact with. Sort of. Clunkily. If you own an Oculus, at least. Anyway, certainly some of those just-virtual brands will become actual-virtual restaurants — but I think it’s important to have a distinction in terms. Otherwise this headline (which, by the way, is McD’s & Panera locking down their foothold in the metaverse but not necessarily indicative of any imminent meta-launch) would be old news, indeed.
…or we could call them metaraunts. Just saying.
🪙 Lunchbox auctions off their NFT-staurant to Bareburger (Joanna Fantozzi, NRN). Of all restaurants and food-tech companies, I’d trust Lunchbox to build a good virtual restaurant (see: their branding) — and so in winning the bidding, Bareburger got a great head start on a space that I do not see many restaurants nailing on their first attempts. How many people will be shopping at it is another (big) question entirely.
👍 Brinker plans more off-premise-only kitchens, virtual brand expansion (Alicia Kelso, Restaurant Dive). Brinker — a little slow to the ghost kitchen / off-premise revolution if we’re being honest — is warming up to the whole off-premise thing. The company is “pleased” (lol, go off Brinker) with the performance of its first Manhattan location with Kitchen United as well as its two virtual brands, and is looking forward to more. Honestly not much else to this story; just watching the last few stragglers run up the gangplank before the SS Off-Prem sets sail.
🧑🍳Digestif: A soul-crushing work of staggering genius (Cathy Chaplin, Eater). A powerful article on the true cost of realizing one chef-disruptor’s vision; that is, all the people left in the ditch along the road (or in short: how not to run a restaurant).
That’s been spooky kitchens.
P.S. If you’re just jumping into ghost kitchens and want to learn more, check out my ghostly glossary and spooky kitchens ghost kitchen cheat sheet. They’re there (and frequently updated) to help make sense of this weird and wild west.