Ghost Kitchen: Restaurant food delivery is a custom that hasn’t changed over time. But one of the more noticeable dining developments during the Covid-19 pandemic has been the rise in so-called “ghost kitchens” and comparable non-restaurant eateries.
Whatever you want to call them, delivery-only concepts have flourished during COVID-19, according to Eater’s report from 2020. Ghost kitchens are “delivery-focused kitchens without a storefront or dining area [that] allow operators to employ commercial kitchens-sometimes in shared premises with other brandsâ€” without the overhead of a complete restaurant location and staff,” Modern Restaurant Kitchen wrote earlier this year.
Station WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina, said as part of a “probe” into ghost kitchens in May that co-owner Vincent Montgomery of the Peach Cobbler Factory in Charlotte “prepares delectable southern foods out of a culinary collective called South End Eats.” Each of the more than 20 cooking booths at South End Eats is occupied by a tiny local business that only operates online; there are no dining rooms.
A virtual restaurant, which is a near analog, is a delivery-only eatery that operates from a real-world restaurant location, usually while that establishment is still open for dine-in business. Some online eateries have joint ventures with well-known local and national restaurant chains, such as Bertucci’s and Chilies.
Whatever the business model, ghost kitchens and virtual restaurants are assisting both established and aspiring brick and mortar restaurateurs to weather the current storm of staffing issues, supply chain problems, high food, equipment, and rental costs, as well as various covid-related impacts and restrictions.
However, despite their advantages, virtual restaurants and ghost kitchens are coming under growing fire from some food safety campaigners and regulators. Some of the worries public-health inspectors in the Bay State have about them are highlighted in an article published this week in the Boston Globe, along with a terrifying headline.
Customers reportedly have less access to restaurant letter grades or other health department assessments “than they could at traditional restaurants, which may be compelled to show documentation of inspection in their storefronts or dining rooms,” according to one objection made in the article.
That’s accurate! The same score won’t ever be posted for customers who buy food from a traditional restaurant over the phone or online for delivery or who reside in a city or state that doesn’t require the actual displaying of such information. To be clear, restaurant inspection scores are a shaky indicator of how sanitized the food is at a certain establishment. For instance, as I mentioned in a 2019 column, a great investigation into New York City’s restaurant inspection system by the food website Eater found that the city’s “broken” inspection system forced city restaurants that weren’t engaging in behaviors that would make customers sick to nonetheless “game the system to pass muster with the city’s notoriously overzealous health department.”
Other health inspector worries mentioned in the WSOC and Globe articles don’t appear to be particularly related to food safety. For instance, according to the WSOC article, food safety expert Adam Dietrich expressed doubts “about whether a restaurant can safely provide varied menus.”
This argument indicates that it is unsafe for restaurants to provide meals from multiple menus. However, the majority of eateries offer a variety of menus, including ones for breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, happy hour, children, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and occasionally they even serve items from all of the menus at once (for instance, breakfast all day).
Timothy McDonald, the health director in Needham, Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe that it is a problem “if we think a restaurant is not preparing burgers, and there is a food-borne illness involving burgers, and we think, ‘It can’t possibly come from [that restaurant] because they don’t prepare burgers’.”
Similar to Dietrich’s assertions, that gravely erroneous reasoning contends that to ensure the safety of Needham inhabitants, the city should prohibit eateries from offering daily specials or changing their menus at all, as this would allow city inspectors to perform their duties effectively.
Even though many of the worries about “ghost kitchens” and “virtual restaurants” seem nebulous and exaggerated, not all critiques leveled at the industry are unfounded. For instance, some sources have claimed that one of the main participants in the sector, Reef Technology, has engaged in several violations of food safety and has failed to secure the necessary licenses.
Ignore the fact that conventional restaurants occasionally violate food safety regulations and fail to secure necessary licenses. The claim that ghost kitchens and virtual restaurants are somehow operating in the shadows with impunity isn’t exactly supported by the fact that the complaints against Reef both came to light and led to improvements.
According to Robert Earl, chief executive of the parent business that runs Bertucci’s, the facility’s cleanliness procedures and food preparation and storage methods are what matter for patron safety. If inspectors want to know what’s going on in virtual restaurants and ghost kitchens, “All they have to do is ask that when they enter the room. Nobody is concealing it.”
phantom kitchens Virtual eateries. The names could be fresh. The ideas are slightly different from those that came before them. They might provide some regulatory difficulties. Like traditional restaurants, they may serve food that makes people ill. However, there is currently little to no proof that food prepared in virtual restaurants and ghost kitchens is any less hygienic than food prepared in physical restaurants. Additionally, the core of these approaches is using inspected and licensed kitchens to prepare meals for delivery to eager clients. As long as that is the case, detractors should remember that not all novel concepts call for the implementation of a plethora of new laws.