The future of fast food could be ghost kitchens.
On Friday, Wendy's became the latest fast-food chain to mention delivery-centric locations without dining rooms or takeout, commonly called ghost kitchens or dark kitchens.
Abigail Pringle, Wendy's chief development officer, said during Wendy's annual investor day that dark kitchens would be a significant part of the chain's expansion strategy. Pringle said the chain planned to open two dark kitchens in the US by the end of the year, having already utilized the design internationally.
Wendy's plans to use dark kitchens in high-delivery areas, as well as in regions where the chain has not yet opened locations due to high real estate costs or other restraints. And, the fast-food chain isn't alone in turning to ghost kitchens to boost delivery sales without making massive investments.
Chains including The Halal Guys, Sweetgreen, and Chick-fil-A have partnered with leading ghost-kitchen brand Kitchen United to offer delivery out of a shared commercial kitchen. In September, Kitchen United closed on a $40 million Series B funding round led by real estate company RXR Realty and GV (formerly Google Ventures).
Kitchen United plans to enter the New York City market as part of its relationship with RXR Realty. The company has 13 more locations in the pipeline, with plans to have eight kitchens open by the end of the year. It aims to ultimately open 400 locations over the next four years.
The ghost kitchen craze is being driven by the explosion of delivery options in fast food.
UberEats, Postmates, GrubHub, and other third-party delivery companies are partnering with chains, many of which are just now offering delivery for the first time. Food delivery is set to become a $75.9 billion business by 2022, according to a 2018 Cowen & Co. report. That's more than triple the $23.2 billion in delivery sales that were done in 2011.
As delivery becomes a larger portion of chains' sales, delivery-centric locations are likely to make up a greater number of fast-food shops around the US. The concept of what a fast-food location looks like is fundamentally transforming - and ghost kitchens are set to play a major role.