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COVID-19 just made every kitchen a ghost kitchen. Now what?

Photograph: Shutterstock

These are difficult, unprecedented times for everyone, but especially for the beloved restaurant industry. While the extent of the impact of COVID-19 is still unknown, some silver linings are emerging: food and beverage operators are finding ways to make it through the crisis with determination and innovation.

Some cafe concepts are pivoting to being small stores, repackaging produce and providing staple provisions such as toilet paper and toothpaste. Other restaurants are maintaining foodservice operations by converting their brick-and-mortar business into pickup- and delivery-only operations.

Essentially, the COVID-19 crisis has converted every operational restaurant into a ghost kitchen. But what does that actually mean for operators?

What are ghost kitchens, anyway?

Ghost kitchens, also known as dark or virtual kitchens, are facilities meant to accommodate off-premise food sales without a traditional dine-in space. The concept has received a lot of attention, especially in recent months, as a lower cost of entry into the industry as well as a way for established brands to streamline operations and grow into new markets. Popular ghost kitchen operators, such as xtraCHEF customer Kitopi, have raised large sums of money to fuel U.S. growth and expansion.

But with COVID-19 forcing restaurants to close their doors to dine-in guests, delivery, drive-thru and curbside pickup are now the only viable means of serving guests, essentially converting all restaurants into ghost kitchens. So what can operators do to salvage their businesses and make the most margin in these strange and unprecedented times?

Keeping the lights on in a dark kitchen

When restaurants are forced to shut off the lights in the dining room, they can shine a light on the back of the house. Whether a concept is already accustomed to takeout and delivery or this is new terrain, here are a few things to consider to make the most of the menu and maximize margins.

  • Maximize inventory

With demand uncertain, it’s important to see what’s on hand and what’s subject to spoilage. Operators may want to move to daily inventory counts—at least of priority ingredients—to stay lean and maximize cash flow.

  • Connect with vendors

Vendors are also in a precarious position right now, with a lot of inventory on hand and fewer transactions. Work with vendors to negotiate pricing and payment terms on key ingredients needed.

  • Modify the menu

Simplify the menu to make sure the restaurant is making sufficient margin on anything that might go out the door. Double-check if website and third-party apps reflect the most recent menu offerings to avoid confusion among customers.

  • Check plate costs and profit margins

Once restaurants know what they have on hand, it’s critical to know how to package that into a profitable menu item. Use xtraCHEF’s recipe management tool to figure out plate costs and profit margins.

Better back-of-house management is a good thing

Thousands of restaurants use xtraCHEF every day to automate back-of-house management, control food costs and make the most out of every dish. These tools help restaurants manage accounts payable, monitor fluctuating ingredient prices and closely control cost of goods sold.

By building better processes and systems in the back of house now, restaurants will be setting themselves up for success on the other side of this crisis.

This post is sponsored by xtraCHEF

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