December 28, 2022

A Complete Guide to Starting a Virtual Kitchen in Hong Kong


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 has been felt far and wide, especially in Hong Kong, where restaurants have 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.

Introduction to Virtual Kitchens

What Are Virtual Kitchens?

Virtual 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.

Evolution of Virtual Kitchens

Since its inception in 2018, virtual kitchens have revolutionised the restaurant industry, responding to the rising demand for online food delivery. These innovative setups, gaining traction with the popularity of platforms like Foodpanda and Deliveroo, offer restaurants a cost-effective way to diversify their offerings and extend their market reach. The global market for virtual restaurants and ghost kitchens, valued at millions in 2022, is expected to grow significantly by 2028. Today, they represent a key innovation in food service, providing dynamic opportunities for both new and established culinary brands in Hong Kong.

Understanding the Popularity of Virtual Kitchens

The rise of virtual kitchens marks a significant shift in the culinary landscape, driven by technological advancements and changing consumer habits. These innovative models are reshaping how restaurants operate and interact with their customers.

Impact of COVID-19 on the Food Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly boosted the growth of virtual kitchens. Faced with dine-in restrictions, many restaurants switched to this kitchen model to maintain their business, focusing on delivery and takeout services to cater to the growing demand for eating at home. Market research firm Euromonitor predicts that driven by the pandemic’s impact, the virtual kitchen sector could grow into a $1 trillion industry by 2030, highlighting its enormous potential for growth.

Changing Consumer Expectations

Today’s consumers increasingly favour convenience, leading to a surge in delivery and takeout options. Virtual kitchens have responded by offering diverse culinary choices with the ease of digital ordering, aligning with these evolving preferences.

Ghost Kitchens vs. Virtual Kitchens

As the landscape of food delivery evolved, ghost kitchens and virtual kitchens have emerged as two distinct models, each reshaping the restaurant industry in unique ways. While they share similarities in leveraging the power of online delivery, their operational approaches and business models set them apart.

Defining the Differences

Ghost kitchens primarily focus on the preparation and delivery of food without a physical storefront, operating as central production units for multiple brands or menus. They are often used by start-ups and established restaurants alike to expand their delivery footprint without the overhead of a dine-in facility. Virtual kitchens, on the other hand, are more aligned with restaurant groups looking to experiment with different culinary concepts under one roof. They provide the flexibility to launch and test new menus or brands rapidly, capitalising on market trends. While ghost kitchens emphasise efficiency and scalability, virtual kitchens offer a platform for culinary innovation and brand diversification.

Pros and Cons of Each Model

Ghost kitchens boast cost efficiency and reduced operational complexity, making them ideal for businesses targeting expansion with minimal investment. However, they may lack brand visibility due to the absence of a physical customer-facing space. Conversely, virtual kitchens offer a unique advantage in brand experimentation and market responsiveness. They allow for a diversified culinary portfolio under one operation, which can attract a broader customer base. The downside can be the potential complexity of managing multiple brands and ensuring consistent quality across varied menus. Both models present viable pathways in the digital era of dining, each with its own set of benefits and challenges to consider.

Advantages of Virtual Kitchens

Virtual kitchens present a new frontier in the restaurant industry, offering scalability and innovation without the traditional costs and constraints of physical dining spaces.

Cost-Effectiveness and Lower Overheads

Virtual kitchens operate with significantly lower overheads by eliminating the need for a physical dining space and reducing expenses like rent, decor, and large-scale staffing. This lean operational model allows for a greater focus on and investment in the quality of food and efficiency in delivery services. Moreover, the reduced financial burden enables business owners to allocate resources to other areas like marketing, research, and menu development, enhancing the overall business model.

Flexibility and Market Reach

The virtual kitchen model excels in providing flexibility, allowing restaurateurs to swiftly test and modify menus in response to current market trends and customer feedback. This agility is key to staying relevant and competitive in the ever-evolving food industry. Furthermore, virtual kitchens break the geographical limitations of traditional restaurants by reaching a broader customer base through delivery services, increasing the customer base and revenue.

Marketing and Growth Strategies for Virtual Kitchens

In the competitive world of virtual kitchens, effective marketing and strategic growth are key to standing out and capturing market share.

Building a Strong Online Presence

Success in virtual kitchens hinges on a robust digital marketing strategy. Create an engaging online brand presence that resonates with your target audience. Utilise social media and content marketing to connect with customers, share your backstory, and showcase your culinary creations. This online engagement is crucial for building brand loyalty and recognition, as it compensates for the lack of a physical location where customers can experience your brand.

Tapping into Online Ordering and Delivery Trends

Virtual kitchens can capitalise on the escalating demand for online ordering and delivery services by aligning their operations with these consumer trends, offering convenience and variety. This includes optimising menu offerings for delivery, ensuring food quality is maintained during transport, and using data from online ordering platforms to understand customer preferences and adapt menus accordingly.

Real-World Examples of Successful Virtual Kitchens

Examining real-world examples of successful virtual kitchens provides valuable insights into diverse business models and market strategies.

Case Studies and Business Models

Let’s delve into some successful real-world case studies of virtual kitchens, each showcasing unique approaches and strategies that have propelled them to success in the food delivery industry.

  • CloudKitchens: Pioneering the cloud kitchen model, CloudKitchens excels in using data analytics and technology to enhance tenant operations. They guide businesses in effective ghost kitchen marketing strategies, emphasising the need to maximise marketing efforts and carefully choose locations for food production.
  • C3 (Creating Culinary Communities): A unique blend of digital kitchen and food hall, C3 operates as a hybrid digital kitchen and food hall, supporting well-known brands such as Krispy Rice to connect with new customers, increase brand visibility, and grow their ventures. This collaboration helps reduce costs for individual kitchens and builds a community network, strengthening each brand within the shared space.
  • MrBeast Burger: Launched in 2020, MrBeast Burger exemplifies the rapid start-up and operational efficiency of virtual kitchens. Known for its dynamic marketing and popular menu, MrBeast Burger leverages its strong online presence to make a mark in the market and expand its operation in multiple locations.

Starting Your Own Virtual Kitchen

Starting your very own virtual kitchen is an exciting opportunity for culinary entrepreneurs. To ensure success, careful planning and strategic decision-making are essential from the outset.

Initial Steps and Considerations

Multiple factors 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’s 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. Financial Planning and Budgeting

Develop a robust financial plan for initial expenses, ongoing operating costs and unexpected expenditures. It’s important to assess your funding sources, whether it’s personal savings, loans, or investors. Create financial projections, including revenue forecasts and break-even analysis, to ensure long-term financial sustainability.

3. Legal Compliance and Licensing

Ensure legal compliance by obtaining all necessary licences and permits for operating a food business in Hong Kong, such as licences and permits from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). Moreover, it’s vital to understand the local regulations regarding food delivery and virtual kitchen operations. To avoid future complications and ensure smooth business operations, you have to secure a good legal foundation.

4. The ideal location

It’s 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 that people might be craving.

It’s 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.

5. 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.

6. 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’s 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 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.

7. 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.

8. Perfect Packaging

It’s 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. That 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.

9. 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 of when an influx of orders comes through, businesses that operate out of virtual or commissary kitchens 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.

10. Make Some Noise Online

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.

Navigating Challenges and Opportunities

Embarking on a virtual kitchen venture comes with its unique set of challenges and opportunities. One of the primary challenges is staying ahead of the rapidly changing food delivery market and consumer trends. It’s crucial to remain flexible and adapt your business model to meet these evolving demands. Other challenges include managing the logistics of food delivery and ensuring timely and quality service, which is vital in building a loyal customer base.

However, virtual kitchens offer significant opportunities for growth and innovation. They allow for experimentation with different cuisines and concepts with relatively low risk. This flexibility can lead to discovering a niche market or a unique selling proposition that sets your business apart. Additionally, the virtual kitchen model offers scalability, enabling you to expand your operations and reach without the substantial upfront costs associated with traditional restaurants.

To capitalise on these opportunities, focus on leveraging technology to streamline operations and enhance customer experience. Invest in marketing strategies that build a strong online presence, engage with your audience, and tell your brand’s story compellingly. By navigating these challenges and harnessing the opportunities, you can set your virtual kitchen on a path to success in the dynamic culinary landscape.


As the restaurant industry continues to evolve, virtual kitchens will continue to stand at the forefront of this transformation. Their emergence has opened doors to not only immense growth opportunities but also many culinary innovations. These modern kitchen models offer restaurateurs a flexible and cost-effective pathway to navigate the ever-changing food landscape. With their ability to adapt quickly to consumer trends and market demands, virtual kitchens are redefining the way we think about food preparation and delivery.

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