Dark kitchen: 7 mistakes to avoid in 2023

Many restaurant owners choose to test their concept in a dark kitchen before launching a brand that welcomes customers on site. So if you too are tempted to open a virtual brand, Inpulse outlines the 7 big mistakes to avoid.

Sophie Gaaloul

Sophie Gaaloul


Nov 2022

Dark kitchen: 7 mistakes to avoid in 2023 | Inpulse
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The size of the global Dark-Kitchens market, estimated at $43.1 billion in 2019, is expected to reach $71.4 billion by 2027 according to Hospitality Technology. On the one hand, home meal delivery, a booming business during the pandemic, has become a habit in many households, with the number of consumers ordering at least once a week doubling since early 2020, in European capitals. And on the other hand, being able to dispense with a room allows culinary concepts to develop more quickly, with many restaurateurs choosing to test their concept in a dark kitchen before launching a brand that welcomes customers on site. 

So if you too are tempted to open a virtual brand, Inpulse lists the 7 major mistakes to avoid: 

1. Do not set up a dedicated structure

Many restaurant owners often make the unfortunate mistake of thinking that their kitchen can simply make a few extra meals for delivery. The operating procedures of a Dark-kitchen are not the same as those of a traditional restaurant. Space planning, production, inventory management and tracking are unique to this business. Having well-defined processes in place is a key element that will define the success or failure of your Dark-Kitchen. It is therefore essential from the very beginning of your Dark-Kitchen to establish a predefined list of rules and standards to operate in an optimal way.  

When Dark-Kitchen operators neglect the importance of creating standard operating procedures, it leads to poor management and lack of control over operations. Standardization of operating procedures is therefore essential to keep your business under control and optimize your production. This set of guidelines will also allow you to effectively train your staff on their daily tasks and monitor your business in a time-saving manner. 

2. Misjudge your material cost

The cost of raw materials is one of the most critical aspects in the management of Dark-Kitchens. Margins are low in this particular segment of the restaurant business, due in particular to the dependence on delivery platforms (UberEats, Deliveroo, Glovo, etc.). To optimize these material costs and thus improve margins as much as possible, it is essential here to standardize the production process. Poor inventory management, leading to excessive food waste, is one of the main causes of escalating raw material costs. The tool Inpulse tool allows you to manage your stocks efficiently, including inventory tracking that allows you to reduce your losses considerably.


3. Have an extended menu

Having an endless list of dishes on a menu is a no-no when it comes to Dark-Kitchen. A menu with 40 items will not increase your traction, but quite the opposite. Your customer will simply be paralyzed in their decision making, and simply move on to another restaurant choice. In a Dark-Kitchen model, where the consumer is less loyal than in a traditional restaurant scheme, it is important to keep things simple and clear. 

Another disadvantage of an overly long menu is that when you have so many items on the menu, you need to ensure that everything is available at all times. This means that you have specific ingredients for each item, that your entire team knows how to prepare each occurrence. This means a lot of human time and risk-taking in terms of inventory management to avoid stock-outs.

4. Lack innovation in your concept

This is a common mistake made by new Dark-Kitchen owners. Ex-restaurateurs assume that they know their stuff. But, once again, the Dark-Kitchen market is a market of its own, with its own specificities. The importance of the concept is absolutely major in the success of a Dark-Kitchen. Therefore, it is necessary to spend some time with the launch of your Dark-Kitchen to fine-tune your concept. Before you move to execution, you need to think carefully about your target audience and how your menu and brand fit with your concept.

5. Not knowing your customers 

To rebound on the previous mistake, as well as the importance of well defining your concept, it is essential to know your customers to succeed in the very competitive Dark-Kitchens industry. And this is not easy because most Dark-Kitchens are distributed through delivery platforms such as Deliveroo or Uber Eats and therefore do not own the customer data. It is therefore not enough to simply prepare the food you want to cook. You have to listen to your customers, follow their comments and above all define your typical customer profiles (customer personas). A tip: observe which restaurants are popular around you to build your customer profiles. Once you have defined what the demand is, then you can build your menu around it, not the other way around.   

6. Do not interact with your customers

Your customers, always them! Yes, this is an important mistake to avoid here. Since Dark-kitchens are entirely digital, there is no direct interaction like in an on-site restaurant. Customers can only interact via the delivery app or via the website. A Dark-Kitchen therefore has very little opportunity for direct customer feedback. It is almost impossible for a Dark-Kitchen owner to understand the perception of his customers when they experience their meal. The customer experience is therefore very different from a traditional restaurant experience. Especially since most delivery apps nowadays take care of customer service. A good customer experience is the key to loyalty in the restaurant industry. To overcome this lack of interaction, you can find new relays to reach your customers and maintain a relationship. You can create campaigns on social networks to engage your consumers, you can encourage them to share their meals for example. You can also play on the packaging to engage them through an original experience. In short, don't hesitate to multiply contact points on parallel channels thanks to innovative content. 

7. Do not automate your business processes

All industry experts agree on one thing: the implementation of technology is one of the most important aspects of growing a Dark-Kitchen. This investment is absolutely necessary for this type of kitchen. Using technology to manage your inventory will allow you to avoid losses and shortages. Out of stock is one of the most common causes of shopping cart abandonment. A technology tool will also allow you to track your performance and margin gains.

At the head of Dévor, Charles Drouhaut is a pioneer in this new industry, he gives us his vision of the business model of virtual restaurants:

"This is virtual food, everything is digitalized, there is no species, no table service, everything is optimized. When we plug in a new kitchen, everything has already been thought out precisely: the size of the premises, the staff, the brands we select according to the catchment area..."
"We're constantly sourcing the market to find the best tools. What was really attractive about Inpulse was its ability to predict the order. This tool that learns by itself is something that is very strong. What we noticed after implementing Inpulse on the park is that we recovered 2 or 3 points of margin on our material costs. We ensure continuity of stocks. You don't have any shortages, it's a free order. I didn't pay 50 euros to have it delivered, I ordered the right quantity and moreover the quantity adapted to my needs."

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