Setting up a dark kitchen in 6 steps, without losing focus

Enthusiasm. It practically pops from the screen as our video call with Junior starts. We’d asked him to talk about his shared dark kitchen ideas. “I work with start-ups that expect to sell 300 orders on the first day because they think their product will sell itself, and I work with scale-ups who believe they will sell 300 orders on their first day because everybody already knows them.” Junior’s smile disappears: “and I have to disappoint them both. Setting up a dark kitchen is hard work and requires a lot of focus.” Curious about how Junior has managed to help set up multiple successful Dark Kitchens in 6 ‘easy’ steps? We’ve got your back.

Step 1

Focus on who you are and what makes you different

It all starts with you and your idea. How are you different from your competitors? And what are your Unique Selling Points? To figure that out, you’ll need to get out there: order from a takeaway place that offers the same kind of food. What do they sell? How do they position themselves? What is their pricing strategy? How do they package their delivery orders? “Just copy what they excel at: you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. What can you do better?”

“Harness your strengths and specialize in them, because that’s what will set you apart,” Junior explains.

Step 2

Focus on how you look and what you serve

First of all, choose a cuisine you’re familiar with or hire a chef who is. When you are clear on what style dishes you want to serve, it’s time to talk about your visual appearance: how does it match the expectations of your target audience? “ If you’ve decided to make awesome stews, ask yourself if your audience consists of young, urban professionals or senior citizens, and tailor your look to your target demographic.” Make sure to stand out and catch your audience’s eye, paying particular attention to photography. “Nowadays, even smartphones can take beautiful pictures, so it doesn’t have to be difficult. You just have to do it!”

Packaging also determines how your food looks. “Because of COVID, home delivery had to step up its game. Customers want sustainable packaging (plastic is a big no-no) and a true restaurant experience at home,” Junior explains. “And now that every restaurant had to close because of the pandemic, the competition heated up in a hurry!”

Step 3

Focus on your menu

“All the time, I see people looking to serve the entire world with their dark kitchen,” Junior says with a smile. I always say: “keep it simple. Buying all those ingredients isn’t cheap, and you might not even sell your food.” Picking a few signature dishes is the best way to go and makes it a lot easier to buy the right amount of ingredients. Make sure to get good deals with suppliers, as that’s where you really make your money (Not in sales!).

Step 4

Focus on optimising your content on delivery platforms

“Customers are hungry, and they won’t go straight to your site, believe me. They’re much more likely to open a home delivery app on their phone and browse through their options. If you look just like everybody else, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Make sure that your food looks the tastiest and give your dishes unique and surprising names. Push promotions by using the marketing opportunities delivery platforms give you.” Junior is very clear: “You have to be PROUD TO STAND OUT!”

Step 5

Focus on your location

Location is key. Be where your ideal customer’s at, from a neighborhood with people who don’t have a lot of time but enough to money to spend, to a neighborhood with lots of students who love promotions and popular food choices. What’s your pick?

Step 6

Focus on your credibility

Honestly? Nobody will know you when you open your dark kitchen. You won’t have any reviews or any credibility. First, you’ll have to boost your brand awareness and trustworthiness: you need to get reviews, fast. “Tap into what’s happening around you with different promotions, reward customers when they leave you a good review, and give them something for free with their next order. Don’t give up if you only get one order on your first day and zero on the second. If you’re persistent, consistent and stubborn, you’ll get there, I promise,” Junior says. Getting a little bit of help is smart, so try finding interesting food bloggers and send them a press release. The more people who write about you and see you, the better.

This also includes building a presence on social media. “It’s all about discipline. Post every single day: in the morning, in the afternoon and right before dinner. You want people to wake up and see your food, and when they have their lunch break, your content has to pop up. Why? Because, at some point during the day, they’ll have the big talk with their partner: “What should we eat tonight?” Junior smiles. “And I want them to eat my food. So, I make sure to post a beautiful, tasty picture right before dinner with an order link. I make sure they can’t say ‘no’.”

But let’s be honest. You need money.

“Opening a regular restaurant can easily cost up to EUR 350.000, 450.000 for the whole thing. A dark kitchen operation, on the other hand, can be up and running for just EUR 15.000 to 16.000.” That’s a massive difference. “If it’s just you, though, you might struggle to find a good location. 20 sqm spaces in attractive locations cost an arm and a leg. But cheaper options are all out there in the sticks, where your delivery density will be low. That’s why I started a shared dark kitchen concept in which starters and businesses looking to expand can rent a kitchen in a great location for an honest price,” Junior smiles.

The battle between restaurants and Dark Kitchens

“Let me stop you right there,” Junior interjects. “There’s no battle. Dark Kitchens are here to stay, so restaurants should join forces with them and make the most out of them! It’s an opportunity, not a threat.” 

For a dark kitchen, consumers at home are the number one priority. In a restaurant, home delivery comes second, because you want to fully focus on the people coming to your restaurant. “Just stop doing home delivery in your restaurant. It’ll just cloud your focus and affect quality. Besides, who likes watching a throng of delivery guys and gals line up in front of a restaurant, equipped with their brightly coloured bags? Don’t do it!” But what should you do? Create a dark kitchen on the other side of town where you can target a new audience with a more focused menu. Win, win… Or should we say: focus, focus?

The future of dark kitchens is just around the corner

“I haven’t cooked a meal in 3 months!” Junior smiles. “I believe that this will be the way to go in the future: people don’t have the time or don’t want to spend time on preparing home-cooked meals. The future is all about delivering good, complete meals, all day, every day.” Junior might be right, if trends in big, cosmopolitan cities such as New York, Tokyo and London are anything to go by. “Some apartments don’t even have a kitchen anymore, just saying.” 

So, let’s recap: dark kitchens are here to stay. The question is not ‘Are you going to jump in?’, the question is ‘When?’

Junior Lugte

As a true entrepreneur, Junior Lugte launched a shared dark kitchen concept called ‘Kitchen Dojo’, giving start-ups and scale-ups the opportunity to rent a kitchen and pursue their dream. He only started four months ago, but is already thinking about expanding.