We are a bar known for our wings. During the pandemic, like many folks, I ran a ghost kitchen delivery concept out of my kitchen focused on wings and bar food. It’s still up and not doing great numbers, but since we don’t do much takeout through the bar, it helps keep us busy. It’s not exactly a secret but I got a bad review on both my websites from a customer saying that we are being deceptive by running two restaurants out of the same kitchen. Should I respond? I have nothing to hide.
– —Owner; Brooklyn, NY
During COVID-19 lockdowns, many concepts pivoted to one or more delivery-only concepts to keep their operations running and staff employed. Famously, Chuck E. Cheese operated Pasqually’s Pizza, and Applebee’s operated Cosmic Wings during the pandemic. Cosmic’s website now redirects to Applebee’s.
Some delivery services, most notably Uber Eats, have been cracking down on a proliferation of these virtual concepts, with a New York Post article claiming that one New York City deli is operating as many as 27 delivery concepts across multiple delivery apps.
I think these extreme examples are getting negative attention or being shut down for two main reasons: They are being deceptive or opaque about where the food is coming from, and they are using a wide range of pricing, with inflated pricing on fancier concepts. The Post article cites a $9 deli panino being sold for $16 through one of these concepts.
In your case, it seems like your practices are far from these egregious examples. Operating a delivery concept can attract a different market from your bar crowd, such as high school or college students looking for indulgent late-night snacks or night shift workers seeking a fun lunch. My advice is to always be transparent about where your guests’ food is coming from and keep your pricing consistent across platforms. Doing so may even bring business to your core concept once people try your wings and love them.
If you have questions about the legal compliance of these concepts, be proactive in asking about the delivery apps’ policies in coordination with your attorney and restaurant association.
More on virtual concepts here.