With the new way of life living in a pandemic, take-out food has been booming. While we are staying away from going to our favorite restaurants, we can still visit and order from them online. 

Whether your cloud kitchen provides a delivery service, pick-up or you rely on Just Eat, Grubhub, or the like, you are in a unique position to really build your following. 

Virtual kitchens are growing in popularity, which means competition is also growing. You can grow your ghost kitchen with a few easy steps. 

Growing Your Virtual Kitchen

A bit of research and following a few simple rules will help grow your virtual kitchen and delivery service into the successfull juggernaut you always imagined.

brand image fun donuts
  1. Use your brand to guide your voice and your decisions

Getting to know your audience will help you understand them and pinpoint your voice and your message. Once you find it, stick to it and use it everywhere.

If you brand is fun and playful, use that in your menu descriptions, in your packaging, and in your marketing efforts.

2. Create a menu item specifically for marketing

Ideally, you want people to know who you are when they think of a certain favorite food item. Make that item unique and people will always associate it with you.

But sometimes you can take this to the extreme. You can make an item so ridiculous that no one should buy it, but be prepared. People will buy it. More importantly people will talk about it.

How about some examples:

Make it a Challenge?

You make amazing chicken sandwiches. Why not make one so spicy that no one can eat. Now it’s a challenge! You can tell people in the name and the description that no human can finish it and that it is highly recommended they order something else. Still, people will be people, and you’d be surprised by what they will do if challenged.

Make it bigger than life?

A few years back the underwear brand MeUndies created a underwear pack. Most of their packs were 3, 5, or 10 pairs. Enough to supplement or replace most of your under garments. But the pack they added was 365 pairs of underwear, one for everyday of the year.

Why did they do it? Well it was ridiculous and in line with their young brand and following to say, “Why do laundry? Put on a fresh pair everyday”. The pack costs thousands of dollars and I doubt anyone bought it, but they received several articles about the stunt item, which I am sure helped with their SEO and marketing efforts while costing them nothing to list on the website as another product.

fun menu

3. Personalize your menu

What better way to make people familiar and comforted than a personalized item on the menu. This is a great way to introduce yourself and keep your virtual kitchen in their minds. Just like Elvis had his peanut butter and banana sandwiches, you can create your own chef’s special. Maybe you like something that is out of the ordinary or it is a special item from your background. Perhaps it will become someone else’s favorite comfort food, as well. 

An example from a Taco place here in San Francisco, Nick’s Crispy Tacos. Every taco has the option to “Make it how Nick likes it”. Don’t you want a taco the way the owner has his?

4. Reach out to local blogs and offer them food

Why not get a few decent reviews under your belt. Prepare a few of your specialty dishes and send them over to bloggers via Door Dash and let them see for themselves how great your food and service really are. 

The right blogger with plenty of followers can make a big difference in your virtual kitchen. Some bloggers write only about food so why not send them something fabulous to write about?

cool packaging

5. Include marketing in your delivery to share menu specials and more about your brand

Always include something memorable in your experience, and with only so much contact with customers in the delivery-only model, your food, your box, your bag is your first impression. You can always include a menu, perhaps with more details or information that UberEats, Doordash, Deliveroo, or Caviar might include, but think of ways to make a splash.

Maybe you can include flyers or cards highlighting the gimmick product you created above- maybe you can add a personal note about how much their business means to you. I might throw in a extra PPE mask to let my customers know I want them to stay safe and healthy.

burger box uber eats packaging

6. Make sure your menu items, their quality and package are designed for life on the road

Not all drivers are as careful as they should be. But, not all food items travel as well as others. Make sure your packaging is spill-proof and leak-proof. If you have items like soup, you will want them to be bundled up so they don’t spill and remain hot when they arrive at their destination.

More so, you will ultimately come to rely on repeat business to survive and thrive. In order to gain that customer loyalty you need to make sure your food tastes as good as you want it to after a 30 min car ride.

I recommend testing and testing often. Quality control is one aspect, but durability and making it DoorDash Dasher-proof is another element of your brand’s image you have to be cognizant of.

A quick anecdote about soggy fries:

A business who works with Zira originally sold fries. Fries are great! Who doesn’t love them? From a business perspective, what better way to add a little earnings to every order by having the most common side dish ready to go.

The problem? The Fries were always soggy. They ruined the experience. Hot fries tend to steam themselves into a soggy mess when put into a closed container or sealed in a bag.

On a call with restaurant we recommended they change the packaging to let the fries breath. What did they do? They took the feedback to heart (which is a great segue to the next item), and after much experimentation realized they couldn’t maintain the quality control they wanted with fries and they switched to home-made potato chips.

The chips were amazing, crunchy, lower cost, and went well with all the sauces they added.

7. Take feedback and Adapt 

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that you never know what to expect, you need to adapt. The easiest way to adapt for the better is to ingest and take to heart all customer feedback, even if you disagree.

Read all the reviews you get online. If someone complained about the delivery, then find out what happened. If someone complained about the food, always respond. Not all complaints will be legit but acknowledge them anyhow. Often, that is enough. People like to be heard. 

Sometimes the solution is as simple educating your customers upfront; letting them know an item is very spicy, or what it comes with. You might not take all feedback literally, but understand that there is a cause and a solution for each negative outcome. The more you fix, the less negativity you have to sift through and the more return customers you have.

8. Quality control and accurate orders are key

Even if you are very busy, don’t cut corners. Give your customers the same quality they have come to expect. If you have to change an order, check with them first. Tell them you are ut of the item and will they accept something else. 

Make it very easy for your delivery driver to get your goods to your customer easily and securely. Drinks are some of the most common missed items, make sure you list everything for the delivery driver to take. Even a small forgotten time can be harmful to you or the delivery company. Seamless may not seem so Seamless, after all. 

If the grilled cheese comes with a pickle, make sure they get the pickle. Something like that may seem small, but it actually matters a lot. Maybe the pickle was what brought them back, and a missed pickle means that customer will order somewhere else next time.

9. Solicit direct pickups to grow revenue and cut out the delivery service fees

Encourage people to come and pick the order up rather than add the cost of the delivery service.

Ofter a discount or free items for people who will come out and pick up their order. Chances are, they are on their way home, or coming out for other things close by and this option might be the information they need to choose your location.

10. Research the current offerings in and around your area to see what new concepts and menu items might have you ranking high in the delivery apps

It’s always wise to see what your neighbors are doing. Are there several ghost kitchens that are very similar to yours? Maybe someone else has already cornered the market for the item you sell. This means that when people search for that item you are going head to head, and most likely losing business to an incumbent. If you are small and scrappy, be small and scrappy! Experimenta and change your menu.

Think of Menu Optimization like SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the more items you rank high for when people search for cornbread, or mole, or french toast, the more sales you are going to convert.

There are always ways to improve your standing, your site, and your delivery kitchen, never stop improving <– that’s the Zira Motto btw.

Jazz In The Ghost Kitchen (Some Extra Hints)

It’s an ongoing battle to stay ahead in the restaurant game. Now, more than ever, virtual kitchens are getting a lot of attention. You need to pull out all the stops to stay in the game.

Get a professional photographer to take pictures of your best dishes. People love to see what they are getting. When Airbnb’s don’t get bookings, they hire photographers and the bookings skyrocket. The same is true for food.

Use a lot of descriptive language to inform people about your food. Talk about how it is prepared. When these delivery services get more sophisticated they will start to use more and more algorithms to sort local businesses, and you’ll have a head start.

Make your website easy to navigate, easy to order, and easy to find. Consider adding pictures of you and your team. It makes the virtual kitchen a reality. Often times, it makes it more real for people to see who is there preparing their food. 

Have fun, and send us your restaurant names so the Zira team can order your food for lunch! Best of Luck

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