One of the many changes to everyday living brought along by Covid-19 has been the meteoric ascension of food delivery, not only to homes and offices, but increasingly also to hotel guests. The trend really took off during the early stages of lockdown de-escalation, when a lot of hotels couldn’t feed their guests due to staffing shortages. These travelers, who were warily navigating the new world outside, started reaching for their phones and ordering from the world of ghost kitchens. Thanks to this being an option, hotels that couldn’t feed their guests didn’t really see significant drops in room bookings, which soon made them start considering ghost kitchens as a viable alternative to restaurant dining, rather than the last resort.
On top of being convenient and bringing variety that a hotel restaurant could never imagine providing, the rising popularity of ghost kitchens also reflects changing attitudes toward hotel dining culture. In fact, Cornell Emeritus Professor Sherri Kimes recently conducted a survey into attitudes towards ghost kitchens and virtual brands, finding that the vast majority of respondents did not really care whether their food was cooked on the hotel’s premises, as long as it was tasty, efficiently delivered and reasonably priced.
While this particular sample size of responses was only 198 people and a larger survey could possibly prove otherwise, the results show a high level of ambivalence to restaurant loyalty, which may serve as an important metric for hotels to consider. As attractive as it once was for some travelers to walk into a Four Seasons and know exactly what to expect, it no longer seems to be of value. People want variety. They want to try something different, as long as it’s not completely challenging to them, and they turn to food for that because it takes them on a journey into the unknown from the safety of their own home or, in this case, their hotel room.
Many hotels are in fact already acting upon these observations by changing their established business models, which in some cases means incorporating ghost kitchens into their food and beverage offering. Although hotel dining has always seen ebb and tide in terms of how many companies were willing to pay for a vigorous food and beverage in-house program, a stride away from this model is now becoming much more evident. As a part of this worldwide trend, we are now seeing even some high-class hotels choosing to have their guests order from the world of ghost kitchens, as well as many restaurants deciding to become free-standing locations. One of our restaurants—NORMAN’S in Orlando—is a good example of this, as a similar scenario might ensue after we move to a free-standing location near Orlando Convention Center.
Incorporating a ghost kitchen into a hotel’s food and beverage program isn’t all sunshine and roses however, so hotels who would like to do that should be prepared to iron out a few creases along the way:
Firstly, the logistics of how to best deal with multiple delivery people roaming hotel lobbies hasn’t been figured out yet. Each hotel will have to regulate this as best they see fit and perhaps even think of new insurance policies suited to this new scenario. Likewise, the financial involvement of each hotel in the food conveyance remains to be determined, as well as the overall role that the hotel and its staff will play in the process.
Secondly, more from a restaurateur’s point of view, ghost kitchens present a completely unique concept, so chefs who want to work with them will have to keep this in mind. I have recently been approached by a number of people in the world of ghost kitchens who want to use my know-how for their food preparation process and I have entered into an agreement with a few, one of which is a thousand miles from where I live. Such long-distance work is an anomaly, because on the level I normally operate on, chefs have control over the food they put their name on even if they manage multiple restaurants or have their own food lines. Working for a ghost kitchen therefore feels like working in a completely new category of food preparation: with people who invest into making sure they have the know-how required to prepare quality food, but want to do so using logistic strategies normally reserved for fast-food restaurants. Can it work? Well, the popularity of these eateries would suggest so, although I think that the quality of the food delivered to hotel guests ultimately depends on how much thought and foresight went into the initial preparation of the menu.
Overall, I feel that ghost kitchens have recently grown in popularity so much that they are here to stay. What’s more, I believe that they actually represent an opportunity for hotels to not only buy time to solve their staffing shortages, but to actually participate in building a new category of dining that could come to represent a significant proportion of the food and dining industry.
As a chef, I certainly see ghost kitchens as a yet another beautiful demonstration of the human race adapting to a difficult situation and I am excited to lend them my skills on their journey to deliver quality, creative and delicious food to as many people as possible.
This article was originally published by hospitalitynet.org on December 31, 2021