Restaurants notoriously operate on thin margins and the initial costs to start a restaurant are immense. Over 60% of restaurants fail in the first few years which makes starting a restaurant seem like an impossible task. Dark kitchens are changing that.

Virtual kitchens, ghost kitchens, or dark kitchens all refer to the same thing, a kitchen that makes food exclusively for delivery. The concept sounds simple but has only been made mainstream because of the rise of mobile app ordering.

Dark kitchens eliminate most of the staff and don’t rely on customers eating quickly for others to be seated. Orders come in, food goes out, and that efficiency is what is significantly reduces operating costs and drive increased profits.

Originally, dark kitchens were relegated to converted shipping containers with little structure, hence the dark moniker. Today, entire companies like Cloud Kitchen and Kitchen United are built on renting out fully stocked kitchens for people to use temporarily at a fraction of the cost. This has enabled much more growth as entrepreneurs can try out concepts without any of the commitment.

The dark kitchen concept has proven so successful that established restaurants are investing in dark kitchens to streamline their delivery services as well as increase their delivery range. Huge chains like Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s are also committed to the idea, using dark kitchens in high delivery areas as well as ways to introduce their food to a new market without the high startup cost of opening traditional restaurants.

Critics of this rising movement fear that cheap delivery may become detrimental to the workforce as well as the greater economy. In order to be competitive, dark kitchens rely heavily on gig workers. The gig economy has long been criticized for the unfair treatment of workers.

Some experts also are concerned that dark kitchens will create a race to the bottom, trying to become the cheapest option at great cost to the economy. Eventually, delivery options might become cheap enough to make home cooking obsolete. This will have huge ripple effects across the food industry as a whole even leaving the supermarket industry vulnerable.