Brought to you by Flying Fish
Even before the COVID pandemic, dark kitchens were becoming a major trend around the world. The US-based Upserve reports that, since 2014, digital ordering and delivery have grown 300% faster than dine-in traffic. This is due to a variety of factors – from people preferring to enjoy their dinner at home while watching their favourite TV shows to delivery services being more convenient than dining out with the children in tow. And, of course, when the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns hit, diners had no option but to enjoy their favourite meals at home. Upserve reports an increase of 169% in restaurants using their services – and a whopping 840% increase in weekly sales! – from February to April last year.
Simele Shange, co-founder of Jozi Cloud Kitchens, says the pandemic has definitely made ghost kitchens more prevalent. “Online food delivery has become top of mind for many consumers. Additionally, the economic pressure brought about by the pandemic has meant entrepreneurs have less capital available and much less appetite for risk, which means that the ghost kitchen route is the best and safest way to facilitate a soft entry into restaurant space or even to test expansion into a new area,” he explains.
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Simele is keen to point out that while the pandemic has increased the need for dark kitchens, the concept had been around long before Covid was even a word. “There’s an ongoing misconception that ghost kitchens and the pandemic are linked: they are not necessarily,” he says. “The pandemic has accelerated the growth of what was an already growing industry. In 2019, online delivery in SA was worth almost a billion dollars, which was set to grow by 20% over the next few years. The pandemic has fuelled this growth even more. We are seeing more players enter the food delivery space, like Bolt Food. This is an industry that’s only going to grow from here onwards. It’s a consumer-driven industry, and right now, the consumer demands more choice, more convenience and better value for money online: ghost kitchens can fulfil that demand.”
Larry Hodes, who operates two dark kitchens – The Dark Kitchen and Bagel Burger – says he believes every restaurant should open a dark kitchen. “A restaurant today could easily set up a dark kitchen within a maximum of 10 days from concept creation to delivering to the public. It has definitely saved our business to a large degree,” he says.
Yegan Naidoo from the Durban-based Hot Kitchen agrees, saying: “With around 250 new customers on average per week spending about R250 per order at Hot Kitchen, I can safely say that a dark kitchen is the best way for restaurateurs to beat COVID, promising restaurant quality food at much lower prices.”
Simele adds: “The biggest advantage is the low capital required to open, which in this economy is very important and a welcome feature for most entrepreneurs. You can test your food concept without having to commit a huge amount of resources: Flying Fish is a prime example of this. The expediency of starting a ghost kitchen is so appealing. At Jozi Cloud Kitchens, we can get you from concept to up and running on delivery platforms in less than 30 days and within a quarter of that time if you already exist on third-party delivery platforms.”
Overall, he says ghost kitchens pose less risk. “If something isn’t working, you can either pivot into a different type of cuisine or just close down without having signed the traditional five-year lease most landlords require. We require two months’ notice and you can move out, for example, if you choose to close your brand.”
This year, Flying Fish became the first drinks brand to tap into this rising trend. Aptly named Flying Dish, Flying Fish’s dark kitchen serves to solidify that all-important link between food and alcohol.
Zachary Kingston, Flying Fish’s brand manager, says: “Taking a moment to appreciate a new innovation of world firsts, Flying Fish x Uber Eats is saying: eat now, drink later. The goal is to inspire lovers of a cold one to #EatWithIt and always eat when they drink.”
After three months of being open, we wanted to know: has that message landed with the public?
“Yes, the message is resonating with customers,” Zachary shares. “We have seen an increase in positive sentiment over the campaign period, with consumers showing a keen interest to drink responsibly, by lining their stomach before drinking. We have already done a pre-campaign assessment on consumers likelihood to eat before they drink. Once the campaign is over, we will run a post-campaign assessment, and it is our expectation that we see a positive uptick in behaviour change.”
The Flying Dish has been providing foodies in Joburg with top-notch meals six days a week, from 12 to 8pm, with highlights being the Flying Fish burger, kota, wings and ribs. The team says the wings and ribs have been a particular hit because “South Africans love grilled meat!”.
The team is amazed by the support they have received so far. “Responsible drinking is a powerful message, and food always brings people together,” Zachary explains.
Despite driving home the message of responsible drinking, the Flying Dish does not serve any alcohol. Zachary says that this is because “changing the narrative is possible and very necessary. The aim is to elevate South African street food so our consumers line their stomachs before reaching for a cold one. The flavour in our food Is everything. We want South Africans to remember how great our food can be, before or while you eat with an alcoholic beverage, no matter the occasion. We are not prescribing a behaviour – our wish is to change behaviour with positive re-enforcement.”
Zachary expands on this, saying: “One of the primary learnings from this campaign is that it is important to find points of convergence. South Africans love the opportunity to connect through share experiences – meals are but one way in which this is done. As alcohol is a social lubricant, it’s important to find ways in which to tap into existing behaviour to drive this relationship between food and alcohol to drive consideration.”
With the message resonating and Jozi residents eagerly tucking into exciting local dishes, we had to ask: will the rest of SA have access to a Flying Dish kitchen in the near future? “Watch this space!” says the team.