First things first. Food in the so-called "dark" kitchens is not cooked with the lights switched off. They are called so primarily because of their delivery-only model. The growing popularity of food delivery platforms like Swiggy and Zomato has led to a surge of such kitchens in India, which are also called "virtual" or "cloud" kitchens by some.
Some prefer to call them "ghost" kitchens as in many cases, you may not even know that they exist. Did you know that popular eateries like Haldiram's, Chaayos, Keventers, Saravana Bhavan and Vasudev Adigas, to name only a few, have set up cloud kitchens in partnership with Zomato? They have. And that is the reason why you get to order food from these eateries even in areas near where their restaurants may not exist.
"We started this model in March 2018, when we realised that while a lot of budding entrepreneurs are setting up new restaurants and cloud kitchens, the pace of setting up new kitchen infrastructure has been lagging behind the demand for them," Mohit Sardana, Chief Operating Officer, Food Delivery, at Zomato told IANS.
"We wanted to accelerate the process of investment in kitchen infrastructure in areas facing a supply deficit and therefore, created the Zomato Kitchens model. Today, we are present in 50+ cities with 700+ kitchens that are already operational," Sardana added. One factor that has worked in favour of the food delivery platforms is the data they have about consumers' preferences. Analysing these data allow them to gauge the nature of the demand of food a particular area generates. Armed with these data, the food aggregators can confidently approach a restaurant business for cloud kitchen partnerships in new areas that are likely to generate handsome profits for both parties, according to people familiar with the way these partnerships tend to forge.
Swiggy launched its cloud kitchen initiative "Swiggy Access" in 2018 and since then it has created over 1,000 kitchens for its restaurant partners. Through "Access", restaurant partners can test new markets and expand intra and intercity, with no rent or deposit charged for the premises/infrastructure, Swiggy said. Swiggy shares valuable insights not only regarding existing customer preferences but also on unmet food choices with partner restaurants, thereby helping them fulfil the demand-supply gaps. Restaurant partners are also able to leverage Swiggy's insights to improve their food quality through consistent customer feedback and optimise their kitchens for factors like stock planning, demand forecasting, preparation time and order edits.
Swiggy said that it is committed to working with the restaurant partner community to bring in the necessary confidence and control to ensure there is no compromise in the safety of food. The food delivery platform added that it mandates all restaurants and cloud kitchens operating on the platform to possess a valid Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) license and additionally conducts hygiene audits across the restaurant partner network with credible third-party audit firms.
Zomato said that one of the biggest advantages of virtual kitchens is the relatively low investment and business risk. "If you look at our model, we ensure the restaurateur is supported well enough to focus on what he does best -- food -- instead of being weighed down by compliances and high rentals, among other necessities. That too, with minimum investment. We also draft a customised growth plan with aggressive marketing support, which is unique to their business proposition," Sardana said.
"These are delivery only dark kitchens and are not usually set up on high streets. However, there will be a few locations that are on high footfall areas and can be easily spotted. On the app, all kitchen restaurants appear in the same manner to a user as any other delivery-only outlet on our platform," he added. Zomato said that it has set for itself "high safety and hygiene standards".
"We have invested time and energy in durable engineering to make sure that we deliver quality kitchens for our partners to use and expand into new markets, wherein with our support on compliances, they do not see the basics as a hindrance when opening up a new facility," Sardana said.