Online ordering is growing 300% faster than dine-in revenue, which has pushed restaurants to develop innovative solutions to accommodate this rising demand for takeout options. Virtual kitchens, also sometimes called cloud kitchens or ghost kitchens, have emerged as one of the most popular options for optimizing a food service’s takeout and delivery capabilities while keeping costs low.

A virtual kitchen is a commercial kitchen space that provides food businesses with the equipment and facility they need to fulfill orders with minimal overhead costs. Instead of having to take greeting, seating and other front-of-house issues into account, restaurant owners can focus solely on producing delicious food for takeout and delivery when they operate out of a virtual kitchen.

Here, we’ve gathered some of the best virtual kitchen practices, along with a few practices to avoid. This virtual kitchen advice will help you stay on top of current restaurant trends to meet consumers’ needs.

10 Virtual Kitchen Best Practices

If you’re thinking about starting a virtual kitchen, check out this virtual restaurant advice:

1. Evaluate Your Customers

You need to know your target customers to meet their needs. Of all orders millennials make, 59% are for takeout or delivery, and over 20% of Generation Z members get takeout more than three times each week, which means your virtual kitchen will have a relatively young customer base. Zeroing in on this demographic will be an efficient way for your virtual restaurant to optimize marketing efforts and generate more business.

Use tools like social media to engage with consumers, solicit feedback and find out how you can enhance their dining experience. Going the extra mile will help you earn good reviews and repeat customers.

2. Invest in Marketing

Marketing to a younger demographic mainly involves digital marketing. Gen Zers and many millennials are native to the Digital Age, which means they get most of their information online and often order delivery through mobile apps. Collect customer data to find out the most popular delivery apps to partner with for maximum visibility.

Take advantage of social media by frequently posting to build up a strong following and keep consumers interested in your content. Insert direct links to your restaurant’s website and online menu in each post to drive traffic to your site. Get online orders straight from your Instagram stories with the platform’s new food ordering feature. Additionally, consider investing in a few paid social media advertisements to promote your brand to an even wider audience.

3. Train Your Staff to Handle the Virtual Kitchen Approach

A virtual kitchen is a unique operation, which means you will have to equip your staff to handle different demands, such as packaging food quickly and securely. A virtual restaurant’s success depends more on speed and efficiency than guest interaction like a traditional restaurant does. Cut down on overall order-to-pick-up time by training your staff to receive, prepare and deliver orders as fast as possible.

4. Optimize Your Menu

An easy-to-read menu will instantly draw more customers and lead to more conversions. Including vibrant photos alongside your menu items is one of the most effective ways to catch consumers’ eyes and entice them to take a closer look at what your virtual kitchen has to offer. Make sure whichever delicious foods you put on your menu travel well so they arrive in pristine condition.

Make each item on your menu customizable so customers can add or subtract whatever ingredients they’d like. Having more options will make customers happier and more satisfied with their dining experience.

5. Utilize All Revenue Channels

If you’re looking for delivery-only kitchen best practices, don’t forget to diversify your revenue streams. Maximize your reach by opting in to every revenue channel available, including delivery, pick-up and catering. Instead of limiting yourself to just one way of doing business, offer your customers multiple methods for receiving their orders. Part of giving consumers as many ways to order from you as possible includes partnering with an online food delivery platform. The food delivery mobile market is growing by nearly 28% annually, so be sure to take advantage of this revenue channel in particular.

6. Engage With Your Community

Without a storefront, you will need to get a bit more creative about how your virtual restaurant interacts with the community. Your business can still connect with your community through social media and supporting local charity efforts. Getting engaged with your community will promote your brand and make community members more inclined to check out your virtual restaurant.

7. Consider Your Hours

You have a unique opportunity to fill gaps in your market and be open when no one else is. Most people are unlikely to go to a restaurant in the middle of the night. However, two in the morning is the perfect time for late-night delivery after a night out.

Or, perhaps the late-night market in your area is already catering to those needs, but breakfast options around town are limited to fast food and coffee places. Your classic diner food might be the wake-up call people are looking for.

As you think about what times you want to be open, account for these questions:

  • What kind of food are you serving, and what times are people most likely to seek that food out?
  • What other options are available during your proposed open hours? Even if a lot of other restaurants are open, you may still fill a gap if no one is making the same cuisine as you.
  • What are your area’s working demographics? Are there many overnight factory workers who could benefit from restaurants being open at unconventional hours?
  • Are there certain days and times when most of your competition is shut down? Does everyone close on Sundays or take mid-afternoon breaks you could capitalize on?
  • Can you find staff who are willing to work odd hours? Will changing your hours impair your existing team’s ability to do the job?
  • If you have dine-in options, will your virtual kitchen hours be the same as the rest of your restaurant, or will you use this opportunity to expand your hours?

8. Stay Consistent

During the first few weeks of your virtual kitchen being open, you may want to experiment and adjust your hours and menu as expectations and reality come to a head. Consistency is key once you get into a rhythm and start developing a customer base, though. Your customers rely on you being open when they expect, and being unable to meet those needs lowers their confidence in you and forces them to take their business elsewhere.

Likewise, you never know which items on your menu are someone’s favorite. It’s sometimes necessary to update your menu based on food availability, but try to keep it as consistent as possible, and offer similar alternatives when you can.

Let everyone know immediately whenever you do make modifications, whether due to availability or changes in circumstances. Update your visitors through social media, and change your hours of availability on every platform. Doing so minimizes shock and allows your loyal customers to still order their favorite dishes.

9. Understand the Market and Its Trends

Knowing your market is vital to your continued success. Virtual kitchen and food service trends change by the day, and to make the most of them, you have to stay up to date. Your competitors certainly are, and that makes them a great resource, too. 

Start by exploring those third-party entities, like Uber Eats and DoorDash. What kind of deals are they running in your area? Which ones are the most successful, and which would fit into your existing business model?

Then, check out the individual brands around you. What are their specials like? The most popular deals you find tell you something essential about your customer base — what they see as the best deal for their money. Are buy one, get ones (BOGOs) big, or do people seem to prefer free delivery or money off when they order a certain amount? If you’re in an area with a lot of families, maybe free kids’ meals with the purchase of adult entrees are the best draw.

Experiment with different deals, and see which ones maximize your profits and increase customer satisfaction. Who knows — you might just be the kitchen that starts the next new trend!

10. Plan for Busy Periods

Finally, your kitchen is nothing without its staff. Part of properly maintaining that staff is ensuring you have enough people to help you during high-volume times. A staff with too much to do feels stretched thin and underappreciated, while a staff with too little work gets bored and costs you money. Plan your schedule based on the peaks and lulls in the workweek to prevent these situations.

Say you notice your traffic picks up every Wednesday, but you hardly get any orders on Mondays. Instead of consistently staffing five staff members every day, you could schedule three people on Mondays and six on Wednesdays. This arrangement ensures staff payments aren’t cutting into your profits and your team feels supported enough to offer their best service at all times.

5 Virtual Kitchen Practices to Avoid

Now that you know the do’s of opening a virtual kitchen, here are the don’ts:

1. Don’t Treat It Like a Brick and Mortar Restaurant

The opening day for your virtual kitchen will look completely different from the opening day of a brick and mortar restaurant. Instead of putting out a giant sign to generate foot traffic, you will need to focus on optimizing your digital marketing resources and reaching out to consumers online. Ask anyone you know to spread the word on social media about your virtual kitchen’s grand opening to create more of a buzz.

2. Don’t Forget to Market Your Restaurant

After launching your initial digital marketing campaign, you can’t kick back and take the rest of the year off. Stay on top of your social media accounts by frequently posting and advertising any new dishes or special offers like a buy-one-get-one deal or free delivery. Once you have a solid foundation of customers, come up with a marketing strategy aimed at nurturing customer loyalty by sending them personalized emails with coupons and other incentives.

3. Don’t Forget to Stay Involved

Don’t let your virtual kitchen be out of sight, out of mind. Increase your visibility by boosting your online presence and staying connected with consumers. Respond to customer comments, listen to their feedback and learn more about what they have to say. Taking the time to do so will give your brand a bigger presence and nurture your customer relationships.

As a bonus, your virtual kitchen might gain some raving reviews, which is what 94% of diners rely on most when choosing a new restaurant to try.

4. Don’t Forget to Stay Up to Date on the Latest Trends

Operating a restaurant is all about catering to your customers and exceeding their expectations. You will need to keep up with the latest consumer trends to ensure you provide a service that’s in demand. Follow what’s hot on social media to figure out what millennials and Generation Z members want from their food services.

5. Don’t Forget the Packaging

It won’t matter how good your virtual kitchen’s food is if it arrives cold, melted, soggy or spilled. Invest in the proper packaging to ensure your restaurant’s food gets delivered in one piece and at the right temperature. Packaging also gives you another opportunity to promote your business with branded labels and tamper-free stickers. Memorable packaging is another small detail that helps turn a first-time customer into a repeat customer.

Partner With Revolving Kitchen

Working with a cloud kitchen can help expand your restaurant’s current delivery capabilities and increase your revenue. Revolving Kitchen offers restaurant owners a fully-equipped space and amenities. Unlike other kitchen rentals, Revolving Kitchen provides private rental options so you don’t have to worry about sharing kitchen space.

Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, Revolving Kitchen is a client-focused cloud kitchen facility that helps virtual restaurant owners run an efficient and profitable business. If you’re ready to take your restaurant’s delivery options to the next level, contact Revolving Kitchen today to schedule a facility tour.