The F&B market has experienced industry-changing shifts as a result of the global pandemic and the adoption of new hybrid work models. The aftershock of these adjustments have been felt far and wide, especially in Hong Kong, where restaurants has been forced to adopt innovative ways to keep their doors open. While there are many solutions out there, one that has consistently delivered success for eateries is virtual kitchens, which are also known as commissary kitchens. Both cost-effective and centrally located, these types of kitchen spaces are experiencing an unstoppable surge in popularity as it allows business owners to tap into already-established customer bases and hit the ground running in almost no time at all.
With many restaurants making the leap from dine-in locations to virtual kitchens, we at Freshlane have prepared an all-you-need-to-know guide on how to start one and the key things to focus on.
What is a virtual/commissary kitchen?
Virtual and commissary kitchens are used by restaurant groups that want to prepare food for one or more brands, which is then delivered to customers via food delivery companies, such as Foodpanda and Deliveroo. Given that these facilities, like the ones operated by Freshlane, are situated in the heart of the city and have plenty of customers nearby and in the surrounding area, companies using virtual kitchens can make their presence felt quickly and even launch new restaurants from the same commissary kitchen space if they feel that particular cuisine would do well or is underrepresented in the market. This is highly useful for brands looking to test out a concept, but don’t want to risk putting in a significant financial investment.
How to get started
There are multiple factors that need to be addressed before you can open your doors and start delivering delicious food to the public. If you have all your bases covered, expect big returns in the long run.
1. Full-fledged plans
Before starting your virtual kitchen business venture, it is essential to have a detailed plan in place that covers numerous aspects of your business, such as the location, how many chefs you need to employ, what size kitchen you need, and whether you need to purchase any equipment or conduct any renovations prior to moving in.
2. The ideal location
It is vital to map out which area your business would best thrive in. Virtual and commissary kitchens are located in bustling areas, but scope out the neighbourhood and see what types of cuisine are highly available and which ones are noticeably lacking. This way, you can potentially fill a gaping hole in the market and offer delightful delicacies from a certain part of the world people might be craving.
It is also necessary to keep an eye on how many people are in the vicinity and the number of orders that come through on a daily basis. Based on this, you can generate a rough idea of how your business will fare in that particular locale.
3. One size doesn’t fit all
Before moving into your kitchen unit, you should have an idea of how many brands you will be running from space. If you plan on operating five different restaurants, it’s obvious you will need a bigger space as you will require more equipment and staff. However, if your business only has two eateries, then a smaller kitchen space will suffice. Just remember that virtual kitchen leases don’t run for lengthy periods of time, meaning if you scale your business, you won’t have to wait long to move into a larger unit.
4. Fully stocked
Once you have settled on the location and kitchen size, you can start focusing your attention on determining what equipment you will need to ensure your business runs smoothly. It is essential not to cut corners here as it can end up adversely affecting your delivery times and the quality of your food. However, keep a close eye on your expenditure as you should have a budget in place for your kitchen equipment and not exceed it.
That being said, make sure you purchase any specialised equipment required for specific cuisines. For instance, if you run a Chinese restaurant, you might need rice cookers, steamers and woks. If the preparation method for your dishes is unique, utilise it to your advantage as it can become a talking point for your restaurant and bring in a flood of new customers.
5. The right suppliers
Establishing the right suppliers to get the very best fresh ingredients is crucial when getting set up in a virtual kitchen. In order to grow your customer base and maintain the loyal patrons you have, your food has to really satisfy their cravings and make them want to come back for more.
While the freshness of ingredients is a top priority, be aware of the price and make an effort to support local vendors in your area as this could develop into a relationship that benefits both of your businesses. Additionally, ethically sourced ingredients can win you a lot of fans as people are very switched on about these types of causes nowadays. Furthermore, if more orders start coming in, you have to make sure your suppliers can cope with increased demand from your restaurant. If they can’t, it might be worth finding an alternative vendor who can deliver what you need.
6. Perfect packaging
It is essential to send food out for delivery in proper packaging because you don’t want it to spill or become cold before it gets to the customer. This is why purchasing heatproof and airtight packaging is crucial if you want the food to remain as enticing and appetising as the moment it was prepared.
7. Be available on delivery apps
To reach a larger group of customers, it will be extremely beneficial for your restaurant to be featured on a variety of delivery platforms in Hong Kong. While you might be worried about keeping track when an influx of orders come through, businesses that operate out of virtual or commissary kitchens operated by Freshlane have access to the latest technology that takes care of this problem. With our state-of-the-art software, restaurants are able to manage all orders placed on a single tablet, regardless of how many food delivery firms they have partnered with. With the entire process streamlined, F&B establishments can tackle all their orders with complete confidence.
Make some noise online
You should try to create some buzz about your restaurant and the many delicacies it offers before you even open your doors. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use the power of social media to share your backstory and what makes your business stand out from the competition. If you get your message across in a way that connects with your customers, you will be able to persuade them to choose your eatery among all the other options available.
Additionally, discounts and promotions are a great way to draw customers in and get them talking about your restaurant.
In a nutshell, if your virtual kitchen employs the right marketing strategies, expect to see a boost in your sales and profits.
Kickstart your commissary kitchen journey today
With all the knowledge required, you now know what to look out for when launching your business from a virtual or commissary kitchen space. With Hong Kong’s online food delivery industry booming and expected to have 3.1 million users in 2023 and generate US$3.61 billion in revenue, the possibilities are endless when it comes to how successful your restaurant can be. Ready to launch your own virtual or commissary kitchen in Hong Kong? Fill out the form below or reach out to us.