Shedding light on dark kitchens
Ordering a takeaway used to be a simple affair. You found a menu someone had pushed through your letterbox and called a restaurant with your order.
These days it is more likely that you will place an order using a nifty food delivery app like JustEat, Deliveroo, or UberEats.
And the folk making the food may not be in a restaurant at all, but instead may be working out of a unit in an industrial estate.
These so-called “dark kitchens” are an increasingly important part of the UK’s rapidly growing £4.9bn takeaway sector.
“Last year, demand grew 10 times faster than for dining out,” the FT recently reported. “Data from the food and drinks consultancy CGA Peach suggest that more than 50 per cent of the adult population in Britain has had a takeaway delivered to their door in the past six months. That’s 28.6m people. And many of them will no longer settle for a tepid pizza in a bashed-up box.”
For some hospitality entrepreneurs, running a kitchen from an industrial estate makes more sense than maintaining a high street presence. The idea is being actively supported by Deliveroo, which is creating a network of industrial kitchens for hire in prefabricated units across the UK, each located close to residential areas where their data shows there is an appetite for good quality home delivered food.
Without the need to service customers in-person - with all that entails - dark kitchens can focus on optimising for food preparation and delivery. This is underpinned with some clever technology that can calculate exactly how long each dish will take to prepare and automatically allocate the order to the best placed delivery driver for fulfilment.
In some cases, very different kinds of food - marketed as though made at independent pizzerias, Thai restaurants, and so on - are in fact all being prepared in the same premises by the same chefs.
Last month, it emerged the controversial former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had acquired FoodStars, a start-up that runs more than 100 dark kitchens in London. It is a world away from old school hospitality. And it looks certain to grow.