Innovation in Foodservice Keeps Coming, Are You Ready for Ghosts?

Innovation in Foodservice Keeps Coming, Are You Ready for Ghosts?

The pace of change is accelerating in most industries:

  • Have you been in an emergency room lately? – Technological breakthroughs are enabling doctors, physician assistants and nurses to better care for patients.

  • Been on the floor of an auto manufacturing plant? – Filled with robotics.

  • Taken a ride in a driver-less vehicle? – Soon you will be able to in central Ohio thanks to the Smart Columbus initiative.

  • The computer/network server in our office at the ORA fits in a small closet. A decade ago servers filled entire floors in climate-controlled offices.

In foodservice, innovation is racing forward. Have you eaten a fresh, antioxidant-packed açaí bowl topped with granola and fruit? Do you like Poke? How about dinner, wine and dancing at Whole Foods?

How about these innovations – automated hamburger-cooking kitchens, kiosks at thousands of fast-food restaurants, cashless restaurants and mobile ordering through an emoji?

How about the reinvention of the food court we used to enjoy at shopping malls? Today this looks like the West Side Market in Cleveland, Findlay Market in Cincinnati and the North Market in Columbus. It also looks like the Short North Food Hall in Columbus, which takes the idea to the next level with good food from several vendors, serious cocktails and a cool vibe in a trendy part of town.

I visited the Food Hall in the Short North last week with Tod Bowen and Chelsea Bailey from our ORA sales team. We spent time with Nolan Vannucci of Corso Ventures, which developed the concept. The Columbus location reminds me of big food halls in Chicago, Denver and New York, which attract families and business people during the day and millennials in the evening. Smart idea.


Now get ready for “ghost” or “cloud” restaurants. No, not the kind with Casper. These are a form of restaurant that isn’t a restaurant at all. They are virtual eateries created by entrepreneurs who believe they have a new idea that taps into the tsunami of food delivery.

Ghost restaurants skip the storefront and bring food straight to the customer via delivery only. These concepts have a big advantage: They don’t have to devote square footage to customer seating and waiting areas.

Restaurants like Chipotle, McDonald’s and other fast-casuals dedicate 50 to 75 percent of their space to seating, while more than 75% of their customers take the food out or use a pick-up window. By comparison, ghost restaurants can open with as little as 200 square feet of space and operate a viable restaurant business with a minimal footprint.

How does it work? Ghost restaurants sometimes have a grill and oven depending on what they are serving. They have prep areas, people working and portioning, and rooms adjacent to the kitchen where orders are assembled. They are made to order, and stations are typically set up by category of food.

Some of these restaurants set up their own e-commerce websites, apps and delivery, while others use delivery services such as Amazon, UberEats and Doordash.

Get ready for the future and read more about the ghost trend here.