With curfews, lockdowns and restaurant closures in recent years, we tended to rely more on home delivery. While these services have enabled some restaurateurs to maintain an activity, it has also accelerated the “dark kitchens” phenomenon. In other words, “ghost” kitchens, with no room or service, focused solely on delivery. Born in the land of Uncle Sam, the concept has spread like wildfire in the wake of delivery platforms such as Deliveroo or Uber Eats, sparking a small revolution in the world of catering, in Strasbourg and elsewhere. Opportunities for some, conflicts of interest for others: in Strasbourg, between restaurateurs and the municipality, dark kitchens have not yet finished dividing.
Imagine the kitchens of Starling Burger, Végéman and your neighborhood pizzeria in one and the same shared space, but each in its own zone† No customers, no service, no waiter and not even many dishes. Instead, the incessant ballet of delivery men and cooks, orders passing from hand to hand: this is the principle of dark kitchens† From perfectly furnished and equipped kitchens, small teams now prepare dishes ordered via the internet, just as if they were cooking for traditional restaurants.
In recent years, we have taken an important turn in our consumption pattern: in 2020, home delivery generated a turnover of 5 billion euros, with a market growth of 47% over two years (2018-2020), according to the expert bureau Vision food service. We have become accustomed to being delivered anywhere, anytime and immediately. And then there was a tidal wave of street foodcravings and tastes that have evolved. All this made it necessary to adjust the offer and prompted the restorers to respond.
It is complicated for a small independent establishment to make too expensive investments, especially when they come out of a crisis. More flexible and economical than traditional restaurants, the shared kitchens of virtual restaurants therefore meet a real need of both consumers and restaurateurs.
We can also identify two large “families” of dark kitchens: real estate and operational† Real estate dark kitchens consist of renting shared or self-contained restaurant kitchens, with or without staff, and offer various services (reception delivery, storage, cleaning, maintenance, waste management, tech ordering platform). This is the solution that many restaurateurs have opted for during the confinement, via solutions such as Not so dark which, for example, offers on its site, “maximize your existing kitchen resources to generate additional revenue streams without adding overhead †
The dark kitchens operational with regard to they carry out all their activities in their kitchens directly with their staff and their recipes† They are single brand or similar to digital food halls marketing a portfolio of virtual brands mainly focused on street food and comfort food. This is the case, for example, with Dévor or Taster, who together offer a dozen different brands on delivery platforms.
In Strasbourg, Outfry, Dirty Vegan Burgers and Pepe Chicken are cooked in the same place
Some time ago Popafood opened in Toulouse, one of the largest dark kitchens in France, with no fewer than 12 kitchen “boxes” spread over several floors. Local cuisine, African, Oriental, Laotian or even Brazilian, Popafood plans to welcome between 15 and 20 brands in its kitchens in the long term. If Strasbourg is not yet at this level, however, we are starting to get our small batch of dark kitchens. You may not know it, but you have probably ordered a few times from different brands whose products come from the same kitchen. And for that you can largely thank TASTER.
The start-up, founded by the Frenchman Anton Soulier, shows on its website its ambition to “to build the largest digital restaurant group in the world, with the best food brands in delivery and advanced technology to serve the next generation of restaurateurs †
Today, TASTER deploys its four virtual brands in about 70 franchise locations in France. Fried chicken from frying outside, the sandwich of Mission Saigonvegan burgers from At Burgers or more recently, fried chicken from pepper chicken (worn by FastGood kitchen). They all come from the same kitchen and are TASTER plates. In other words, you cannot enjoy one of these dishes at a table in a restaurant.
Since last year, TASTER’s brand dedicated to Outfry fried chicken has even grown into the 2nd most ordered brand on delivery platforms, just behind KFC. Is it because of the taste and quality of the products or because of the fierce marketing? That’s another question, which some Google reviews seem to answer.
in Strasbourg, TASTER has installed its kitchens above the Carrefour City† Nov 22nd St. This is where the fried chicken from Out Fry comes from, but also the burgers from Dirty Vegan Burger. Lately we were even entitled to Bo Bun from Mission Saigon, but they seem to have disappeared from the Deliveroo platform for a while. TASTER isn’t the only one to offer these ghost characters, though. If we pay attention a little, we have noticed for some time that certain “classic” Strasbourg restaurants, already present on delivery platforms, take advantage of their cuisine to boost their sales, developing a new brand, often dedicated to a single type of product. .
let’s take the poutinists, on Deliveroo. This brand is one of the few in Strasbourg to offer the famous Canadian specialty in all its forms. A logo with a moose head, Canadian flags everywhere… Yes, except that the poutinistsit is actually La Frituur that’s the origin, the franchise of Belgian chip shops landed in Strasbourg a few years ago. The same cuisine, the same staff, the same expenses… But two very different brands, offered from the same kitchen of their restaurant at 8 Rue de la Krutenau and 92 Grand Rue.
The same goes for the sandwiches from Philadelphia Club who actually comes out? Burger Club, the bowls of pokaic get out of the house sushi shop† Grandma Salads to which we owe bagelsteinor the Spaetzeilein spätzle dishes that come to us from Chez l’Oncle Freddy
“Methods that inevitably raise questions from an employment law point of view “, according to the City
For Joël Steffen, deputy responsible for trade, dark kitchens are completely the opposite of the consumption models that the City pursues today, not to mention the concerns that are more of a legal issue: † These are methods that inevitably raise questions from an employment law point of view.† People work locked up in hidden kitchens in the city. We have a very cloudy view of the pace imposed on the employees who work there, with regard to allergens. When you cook two or three different foods in the same space, there are bound to be imperfections. We have tools to combat this phenomenon, we will use them †
The municipality says it pays attention to this growing phenomenon. There are not only fears associated with the crowds on the open road or the crowds of delivery drivers, but also real ethical and values issues, as Joël Steffen explains: “ Socially, these phenomena contribute to changing consumption trends towards a triptych: delivery – consumption at home – leisure, as opposed to a friendly city, sharing, meeting and living together. The dark kitchens are preparing a generation of young chefs to lock themselves up in the kitchen without customer contact, sometimes at a hellish pace. Strasbourg also tends to be a soft city and the countless unscrupulous delivery guys who have forced themselves into it in a few years don’t fit the city’s configuration.† its small intersecting streets who mix the means of transport †
An economic opportunity for some restaurateurs, but fear shared by all
Criticized for their “dehumanized” model or considered unfair competition with classic restaurantsHowever, dark kitchens are more and more numerous and arise for a number of reasons. For example, for Ozgur Ucmaz (head of Burger Club, Philly Club, Kebs Baba), it’s the ” Cherry on the cake », a way to optimize your sales and emphasize certain products on your menu: “In our case, developing a Dark kitchen allowed me to promote a product that we felt was worth the detour, but didn’t benefit from the desired visibility. (the Philadelphia Club Sandwich)† Nowadays we try as much as possible to make one product, that’s what works. When there is too much choice in a restaurant, people often leave the house †
His dark kitchen also allows him to make the most of his payroll. † Our turnover has decreased compared to when we handled the deliveries internally. Today we depend on delivery platforms, we have no choice but to adapt to them. For example, we make homemade fries, by multiplying the plates in the same kitchen, I can keep someone who peels the potatoes, because I have enough requests to pay for it † †
If Ozgur has adapted to the market by developing its own dark kitchen, things remain mixed about the phenomenon: “If you want to know what I mean, whether it’s dark kitchens, or more generally delivery platforms, they’re breaking our craft. Deliveroo is creating its own hubs everywhere, where they rent space from restaurant owners and receive 40-50% of their revenue. We become slaves to it. When you see that some restaurateurs make 80% of their turnover from deliveries only, it is delusional †
And to add: With the Covid we have entered a new market where marketing takes care of everything. You can certainly pay to be placed at the top of the list on the platforms, you have to take care of your image. It has become a real business, we talk more about catering. All the big dark groups opening today are mostly marketing bosses, which is why the quality is often not there. †
Same story for Nicolas Barral, chef of the Acerola restaurant in Strasbourg. For him, the concept is clearly at odds with his vision of the profession : “It would be damn sad if dark kitchens were the future of the hospitality industry, I see that as a dismantling of our profession. To me, it’s more of a factory or service offering than actual catering. Catering is not just cooking, it is contact, meeting, fun, exchange. There is none of that in the dark kitchens, I find it hard to understand how anyone would want to work there as a cook. †