A number of TikTok users are discovering a phenomenon widely referred to as “ghost kitchens” on a number of food delivery service apps, including Uber Eats and Doordash. Ghost kitchens refer to popular chain restaurants selling food under a different name, sometimes to generate additional revenue, and sometimes to help struggling small businesses without consistent access to kitchens. The trend picked up speed at first during the COVID-19 pandemic when demand for delivery services was up amid stay-at-home-orders that prevented dining in restaurants in person.
A TikTok creator named Sarah (@sarahshooots) raised the issue in a viral video decoding a number of restaurants in the greater Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. She found that a number of local ordering options were actually a part of Denny’s, Chili’s, and more.
The debate surrounding the ethics of ghost kitchens is nothing new. While some feel that they mislead customers, others find it a unique way to support small businesses.
Ghost kitchens are also referred to as “cloud kitchens,” as many have no brick-and-mortar locations and are exclusively available online and via a number of online food delivery platforms, from Doordash to Postmates and Uber Eats. This business model emerged in recent years without a clear origin, and despite its lurking in the shadows this whole time, TikTok users are now drawing attention back to the concept.
Restauranteurs have spoken out in the past regarding the business logic behind engaging in this type of service, with many feeling that the benefits outweigh the con of some customers left feeling misled.
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Some restaurant workers are offering inside glimpses into what a ghost kitchen operation looks like for the staff of a number of popular chains. Oftentimes, a number of ghost kitchens are based out of the same location at once.
Earlier this year, YouTube creators Mr. Beast and Eddy Burback exposed the corporate profit of some of the ghost kitchens. Burback ordered the same chicken sandwich from nine different restaurants, and picked them up all at the same establishment, proving that one restaurant had been running at least nine different ghost kitchens at once. Burback argued that a number of ghost kitchens contribute to large corporate profit and do not actually support small businesses.
Denny’s, Chili’s, and a number of the corporations known for their ghost kitchens are yet to address the phenomenon at this time. These kitchens even tend to sell the same exact dishes under different names and sometimes at different price points, solely to appear as a different business entirely. Additionally, there appear to be no regulations on ghost kitchens across the major food delivery apps.