This time last year, we were getting ready for an exciting year for the shared kitchen industry. Cloud or ghost kitchens were starting to come into the mainstream consciousness, the sharing economy was on the up, and there was a sense of optimism in the air for the coming year.
We all know what happened next.
While many struggled to make the best of things, some shared kitchens ended up having a bumper year by pivoting into areas of business where people needed the most help.
What we saw after the initial shock of Covid-19 was a resilient industry, strengthened by community and solidarity. The industry bounced back and found a way to get through the year.
The natural question now is: what you got 2021? It’s surely got to be better than 2020.
What to Expect From 2021
With signs that things might be going back to normal, there is certainly some optimism in the air. But people are also cautious not to be too hopeful after such a devastating and uncertain year gone by.
Let’s try to put that aside here and take a look at what we do know. To do this, let’s look back at 2020 and see what we think might be around the corner for shared kitchens in 2021.
Covid restrictions aren’t going away
Although everyone is hoping 2021 will bring better news and things will return to normal soon, don’t expect restrictions to disappear overnight. Whether you’re in an area still in lockdown, or somewhere that is getting back on its feet, distancing requirements, and extra safety measures are going to be around for a while longer.
The best thing to do is remain vigilant, hold the line, and monitor the situation. It may be six months or even a year before we truly see operations return to normality so be prepared to continue with the extra precautions for now. In addition, different areas, regions, and localities will have different timelines based on the level of transmission happening in their communities.
New opportunities to utilize shared commercial kitchen space
Although we saw a decline in food businesses seeking kitchen space at the start of 2020, with a decrease of 40% from February 2020 to April 2020, demand actually rose to pre-pandemic levels later in the year.
This trend suggests that shared commercial kitchens are in a unique position to help small businesses adapt and pivot in uncertain times.
A growing number of restaurants, churches, and other local community organizations offered up spare kitchen space to rent. Presumably as they looked for additional revenue channels during a time when dining in and community gatherings were not allowed.
As restrictions continue into 2021, shared kitchens have an opportunity to help small businesses make the most of new opportunities. And restaurants and other businesses with excess capacity can utilize The Kitchen Door to rent out their kitchen space to others. This adds an additional revenue stream while helping other businesses make use of their space when it’s not being used.
Off-premise dining is big, for now
Given that restrictions are still in place, and the massive growth in off-premises dining we saw in 2020, we can safely expect it to be another big one for takeout, curbside pickup, and drive-thru channels.
Tech platforms have invested in getting a ton of new restaurants and diners on board and the public is getting used to being able to order anything they want to eat at home.
It’s not just fast-casual and QSRs that are driving this trend. Full-service restaurants, bars, and stores that would have never considered delivery a viable channel for their type of product are getting on board, some delivering out of their already established kitchens.
After being forced into offering ways to enjoy their food off-premises, many are convinced that delivery orders are a cash cow for business. Restaurants of all kinds found new and creative ways to offer the same service and quality they offer in the dining room for diners at home.
As more and more restaurateurs and kitchen operators catch on, off-premises is going to be huge again in 2021.
Ghost kitchens are even more relevant
Many of the industry’s most psychic journalists were already predicting that ghost kitchens were going to be huge in 2020. They couldn’t have known just how huge they would be as a result of the pandemic.
Off-premises channels were obviously huge last year due to dining room shutdowns and many people being stuck at home. On top of this, massive investment and hype were already building around ghost kitchens before the pandemic hit.
Takeout, delivery, and drive-thru are ideally suited to the ghost kitchen model. And ghost kitchens are specifically designed to optimize for delivery and takeout orders and benefit from not having a front-of-house.
As we roll into 2021 with restrictions still in place in many areas, and more of the public accustomed to using delivery apps, you can expect this trend to continue to accelerate. Whether it delivers on its promise remains to be seen.
More tech in the kitchen
Before the pandemic forced everyone to talk about how to pivot and survive, there were murmurings about the more exciting things that tech was bringing to the industry. Innovative software solutions, more automation in the back-of-house to save time, AI helping to make decisions and improve efficiency, and even robotic staff.
All of this got taken over by talk of contactless payments, ordering apps, and snazzy floor decals. All very important but not quite as glamorous as futuristic robotic waiters. Nonetheless, these advances are still happening and 2020 saw a lot of progression with the first robotic chefs being introduced, drone delivery starting to become a reality, and AI seeping further into every aspect of operations.
Look out for even more advanced tech in the restaurant industry this year.
More support among local communities
The shock of Covid made it hit home for many people the importance of local support from the community. People helped each other in many ways and the shared kitchen community looked at creative ways to make the best of the situation.
From quickly turning their kitchens into community stores, making and delivering meals to vulnerable people, to holding outdoor markets so people could safely support local producers, a warm community spirit of helping those in need was one of the best things to emerge at a troubling time.
We also saw community-focused platforms emerging to help bolster local networks and help people come together. We hope this spirit hasn’t been lost and that 2021 will see more togetherness and mutual support among the shared kitchen community.
Need help navigating 2021? We’re here for you
If you’re worried about what fresh hell this new year might bring, you’ll be looking for some support. In spring last year we published guides on how to pivot your business delivery or ecommerce to cope with restrictions and cancellations. Much of it will still be relevant this year, depending on the restrictions still in place where you are.
If you have questions or want to network with peers in the shared kitchen industry, join The NICK (Network for Shared and Commissary Kitchens), a lively community teeming with questions, tips, and discussion among industry peeps.
If you need help running your shared kitchen, The Food Corridor has developed a plethora of resources, a library of guides, toolkits, and templates, and a full suite of software applications to help you efficiently manage and run your business.
Whatever 2021 throws at you, you’re not alone. There is a community of like-minded entrepreneurs going through similar challenges and there are places to go for support and advice – and hopefully, to share some bigs win over the course of the next year!