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The rise of dark kitchens in the wake of the pandemic

The rise of dark kitchens in the wake of the pandemic

COVID-19 has changed life as we know it – and is set to do so well into the future. An industry that has been particularly affected is hospitality, as restaurant and bar closures continue to damage revenue.

Looking to the future, there are several challenges that restaurateurs will have to face. Of course, social distancing presents substantial logistical problems, but further to this, many eateries worry that they won’t be able to attract customers back out of fear.

So, what does the future hold for the hospitality industry? Even before lockdown began, a significant new tendency within the sector was the rise of the dark kitchen. Here, we explain the concept and its implications from an MEP perspective.

What is a dark kitchen?

Dark kitchens – also referred to as ghost or cloud kitchens – are establishments that prepare food at separate premises created specifically for takeaway customers. In contrast to the traditional takeaway format, the public isn’t allowed to enter; instead, orders are placed online and delivered via courier.

These spaces have begun to crop up largely due to increased demand for rapid food delivery services, powered by platforms like Just Eat and Uber Eats. However, as the coronavirus crisis continues to complicate the hospitality sector, the number of these establishments is set to grow even more.

Opposition to dark kitchens

Many local authorities have sought to discourage the growth of dark kitchens, as some seek to bypass regulations. Recently, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has condemned these environments, claiming that they fall short of established health and safety regulations. Although the food may be marketed under the name of a reputable restaurant, it will, in fact, be prepared in dark, cramped, and poorly ventilated workplaces.

However, considering the impact of the coronavirus crisis, the dark kitchen may very well be the future of the industry. So how can we work to make dark kitchens healthier working environments?

How the dark kitchen will transform approaches to MEP in hospitality

The rise of the dark kitchen not only transforms consumers’ dining experiences, but it also has major implications for the workplace. Dark kitchens are often windowless, hence the name. However, as highlighted by the RSPH, they must adhere to the same standards as a regular takeaway establishment, ensuring the space is hygienic and well-ventilated.

Therefore, MEP engineers need to consider how these spaces can be better organised, not only for more streamlined operations but also to ensure the health and safety of the staff. Within a dark kitchen, ventilation is clearly of vital importance. These spaces need to be fitted with efficient, powerful systems to keep the kitchen cool and air quality high.

Equally, spacial planning is paramount; chefs and porters need to move around safely and efficiently, to ensure the smooth running of service and the safety of staff. Configuring these spaces will require creativity.

Creativity is key

The coronavirus crisis has meant that many sectors have to reconsider how they do business. Hospitality is one of the most substantially affected, with managers and restaurant owners having to get creative to ensure the sustainability of their business. MEP engineering will have to support them in this endeavour – which means considering how the increasingly prevalent dark kitchen model can work better.