What’s the Difference Between a ‘Ghost Kitchen’ and a ‘Virtual Restaurant’?

What’s the correct term for restaurants that shares a kitchen or one that doesn’t have a public space? As restaurants evolve and reinvent themselves in order to lower costs and become more flexible, the terminology can become confusing. Now the industry is arguing about which terms to use and why. Here is some info on the new lingo….

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Ghost kitchen. Virtual restaurant. Delivery-only brand.


As restaurants cater to the growing demand for carryout and delivery orders, operators are also looking at the best way to describe these modern off-premise services to each other and their guests.


It’s not always easy.


Although off-premise takes up a great deal of the restaurant industry conversation language and terminology is still being defined — and quite frankly argued about, even at the offices of Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality.


We admit, we’ve been learning along the way with rest of the industry when it comes to these terms, and we didn’t always use what we’d now consider the “correct” term.


So, how would you define terms like ‘ghost kitchen’, ‘dark kitchen’, ‘cloud kitchen’ or ‘virtual restaurant’? Or is there a definition at all? The terms are reasonably interchangeable.


Kim Severson, a food correspondent for the New York Times, brought another term to our attention—'shadow kitchen.' This term is also interchangeable with dark/ghost/virtual/cloud kitchen, too.


These kitchens are not housed in restaurants, but rather in shared commissary spaces. These can also be kitchen operations located outside the walls of a typical brick-and-mortar restaurant, without a typical dining room or public space, again with a focus on off-premise.


Shared commissary spaces focusing on delivery are also referred to as central kitchens, rent-a-kitchens, or as a ghost kitchen facility, dark kitchen facility or virtual kitchen facility. We also like the term cloud commissary, and we hope it catches on.


‘Virtual restaurant’ is used most frequently. A virtual restaurant can be housed in an established traditional restaurant or housed in a dark/ghost/virtual/ cloud kitchen.


Photo Courtesy of NRN.

The term virtual restaurant has also been used to refer to a delivery-only brand, such as when an established restaurant spins off a new brand and menu for delivery or pick up only. So, another way to describe the brand explicitly is as a ‘virtual brand,’ ‘delivery-only brand’ or a ‘digital restaurant brand.’


See, we’re all learning this new lingo together.


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