Whether you’re offering a simple twist on classic breakfast or reinventing the taco, your menu should reflect your culinary interests. Your creative spark is what ultimately will bring your restaurant to life.
That said, if you want to maximize your business’s impact in the restaurant industry, here are a few tried-and-true menu engineering strategies for putting together a winning menu.
We’ve put together six great tips to help you create the best ghost kitchen concept imaginable. Read on to explore dish prep, beverage options, add-ons, and so much more.
#1 Prioritize variety
Every kitchen has a culinary style and specialty.
When refining your menu, you should try to provide a variety of dishes to your customers while staying true to your restaurant’s culinary style and specialty. If you offer a variety of dishes while also playing up your culinary strengths, you’ll be able to increase your customer base without sacrificing the quality or identity of your business.
Here are a few ways to increase the variety without massively increasing food costs:
Find your closest culinary relatives – Greek food and Italian food share many similar ingredients while some Latin American dishes share common DNA with Southeast Asian food. If you’re looking to expand your offerings, do some research to find out where your ingredients and recipes overlap with other cuisines.
Shop local – Your next culinary breakthrough might just be right under your nose. Discover unique ingredients by exploring local markets, butchers, and grocers. Not only can your kitchen earn bragging rights by shopping locally, but you can also build a network of other businesses in the industry while spreading profits throughout your community.
Offer specials – Ready to try something new, but unsure if it should be a permanent staple? Weekly menu item specials can be a great way to try out new items before adding them to your main menu.
It goes without saying that your restaurant business needs to be profitable. Part of what makes a ghost kitchen or virtual brand profitable is continual expansion, exploration, and improvements to your menu and your restaurant brand. As a restaurateur, shaking things up is essential for drawing in new customers and keeping old ones interested. Consider yourself a culinary adventurer, and keep exploring.
#2 Pick items you can prep ahead of time
Speed is a key factor for most ghost kitchens, so don’t push your customers’ patience with time-consuming recipes.
As you pick menu items for your virtual restaurant, prioritize those with components that are easy to prep ahead.
Some common items for prep include:
Sauces – From ginger-soy to homemade aioli, there’s no reason for your commissary kitchen to be scrambling for sauces as they’re filling takeout orders. Prep your sauces regularly, and fill up various condiment dispensers for maximum speed and simplicity. It’s all in the sauce.
Batters and marinades – If you’re frying up something delicious, running out of batter can force your virtual kitchen into a standstill. Fortunately, batters and marinades can be prepped daily to ensure freshness and avoid any hiccups.
Grains and pasta – A watched pot never boils, so cook your pasta before your kitchen opens. From brown rice to risotto, cooking grains and pasta can take some time, so prep them early. With the proper reheating method, they keep and reheat well.
Toppings – Sliced tomatoes, cheeses, onions, nuts, and uncooked toppings are an obvious choice for prep. Get your team chopping early and be sure to keep your containers as full as possible. Consider prepping multiple back-ups to ensure your team doesn’t run out during the rush.
As a restaurant owner, it's important to acknowledge that what you prep is dependent on what you offer on your menu, so thoroughly examine your offerings for more opportunities to prep ahead. That way, you can create an efficient assembly line for most of your dishes.
Consider cutting or charging more for menu items that take too long to prepare.
#3 Offer add-ons and substitutions
For some chefs, substitutions are hard. You’ve already carefully crafted a menu, sourced the ingredients, and perfected the quantities to reflect a specific flavor profile. Unfortunately, not all customers see it that way.
Let your customers customize. Add-on and substitution options empower foodies to enjoy their meals according to their specific tastes. At the same time, up-charging for various options can increase the profits per order.
Here are a few ways to offer substitution and add on options in your ghost kitchen model menu:
Side upgrades – From chips to fries to salads, everyone enjoys the chance to add a little extra to their main course. Side upgrades are common in the industry and are usually expected by customers at this point. Make sure they know all their side options before they finalize their order through their third party delivery app.
Additional proteins – Give your customers their choice of protein when they order online. Options for chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or Beyond Meat in your various dishes can significantly increase the price-per-plate and encourage customers to turn the average meal into an extravagant one.
Item pairings – Help guide your customers through a full culinary experience by offering specific item pairings. Include appetizers, entrees, and desserts to provide a full-course meal from your ghost kitchen. You can even offer discounts to persuade your customers to max out their orders.
But when it comes to substitutions, keep the options within reason. A highly-specialized order could slow your kitchen down and lead to longer ticket times for all of your customers. Do your best to offer options for various dietary needs (like vegan, keto, or dairy-free), but remember, you can’t please everybody all of the time.
#4 Don't ignore the beverages
No matter what your kitchen is serving up, your customers are bound to get thirsty. While it may not feel essential to offer a variety of beverage options, it’s an easy way to boost your profits while providing something unique to your customers.
Here are a few beverage options you can consider offering your customers:
House-made beverages – Juices, milkshakes, and hand-crafted sodas are all great options for ghost kitchen beverages. Try to use ingredients that you already have on hand to eliminate extra costs.
Standard beverages – They may not be as fun as your unique beverage options, but regular bottles and cans of juices, sodas, or even water are still popular picks. Explore distributors to find people who can give you the best pricing on bulk orders to ensure maximum profitability.
Skip the alcohol – Unless your business already has a liquor license, the added costs of selling alcohol aren’t typically profitable for ghost kitchens. One of the advantages of operating a ghost kitchen is lower overhead costs, so ideally, you wouldn’t want to increase overhead again by pursuing further permits, licenses, and legal fees. Many cities also have heavy restrictions on alcohol delivery or prohibit it completely. It is best to check your local alcohol delivery laws to better understand your options.
Sure, the average ghost kitchen customer may have some beverages already in their fridge, but if they’re already splurging on take-out, they may be interested in a special drink as well.
#5 Stand out from the competition
With a ghost kitchen, you’re not competing with the restaurants on your block or even in your neighborhood. In terms of competition, you’re in the running with restaurants in your entire delivery radius, which could extend several miles— and even into multiple cities.
This means that standing out is essential. You’re likely not the only business offering a specific food concept, but there are still ways to make your menu feel extraordinary.
Craft a menu that stands out from the competition by:
Highlighting your most unique items – Make them big, bright, and bold. Many businesses have a signature item that they’re best known for—why shouldn’t yours? If your customers can’t stop talking (and ordering) one item in particular, consider making it your primary feature on digital menus.
Refining your branding – Your menu should have something about your business on it. While third-party apps have limits to how you can customize your digital business, ensure you’re doing your best to represent your brand. That includes the names and descriptions of your menu items.
Including reviews – A good review can go a long way. Whether you’ve earned celebrity testimonials or praise from thousands of customers, make sure your best reviews are visible whenever someone searches for your business. You may even consider offering your customers rewards and discounts for reviewing your food.
The requirements of a ghost kitchen menu go far beyond what’s demanded in a traditional restaurant. Not only is your menu an advertisement on its own, but it also has to stand out against a sea of other restaurants competing for the same customer’s business. This can be a tall order, but with the right strategy, you’ll be prepared to fulfill it.
#6 Create the optimal ghost kitchen with CloudKitchens
Building the best possible ghost kitchen menu means knowing the business landscape. After all, ghost kitchens are already a multi-billion dollar industry and experts estimate expansive growth over the coming decade. If you’re ready to lock in your menu, your business, and your earning potential, CloudKitchens is ready to assist you every step of the way.
At CloudKitchens, we’re a step ahead with cutting-edge ghost kitchen tech, national partnerships, and the resources to help reimagine your commercial kitchen. Reach new customers, receive unmatched support, and launch with CloudKitchens’ turn-key solution in just weeks. Ready to get in the kitchen and start increasing profits? Contact us today.
1 Fit Small Business. What Is a Ghost Kitchen? Types, Strategies, and Stats. https://fitsmallbusiness.com/what-is-ghost-kitchen/
2 National Retail Federation. A look inside the $43 billion ghost kitchen industry. https://nrf.com/blog/look-inside-43-billion-ghost-kitchen-industry
3 Upserve. 26 Online Ordering Statistics Every Restaurateur Should Know in 2021. https://upserve.com/restaurant-insider/online-ordering-statistics/
4 Restaurant 365. How to Set Up and Run a Ghost Kitchen for Your Restaurant Business. https://www.restaurant365.com/blog/how-to-set-up-and-run-a-ghost-kitchen-for-your-restaurant-business/
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