The Future of Delivery May Turn the Idea of a 'Restaurant' on Its Head

Shared kitchens would allow restaurants to expand delivery without actually expanding.

Photo: Milkos/Getty Images

The growth in delivery has changed our relationship with restaurants. In the past, generally you knew where a restaurant was, and maybe you had even dropped in for a meal before. But digital platforms have made the experience less personal. When's the last time you ordered from a restaurant you couldn't picture in your head or pick out on a map? Oftentimes, food just shows up in a bag, and if it's good, we're happy.

It begs a question: If you don't know exactly where your food came from, does it even matter? Increasingly, the answer appears to be "no," and some entrepreneurs are looking to make this new reality its own big business. This morning, the "virtual restaurant concept" known as Kitchen United announced it had landed $10 million in funding with the help of none other than GV—formerly better known as Google Ventures. Simply put, Kitchen United gives restaurants a way to grow their delivery business without building more restaurants.

Launched last year and featuring a leadership team from big names like McDonald's and Wolfgang Puck, Kitchen United wants to operate "state-of-the-art commercial kitchens" that restaurants of any size—be it national chains or local upstarts—can rent out to expand their delivery market. Though the company says it plans to use its fresh funding in part "to open new facilities in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Columbus, Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, and New York City by the end of 2019," it also stresses there's a lot more to their business than just infiltrating big markets willy-nilly.

"Kitchen United leverages aggregate data to identify the best locations for its 'Kitchen Centers,' which are facilities that can house 10-20 restaurants in converted warehouses, as well as big box and light industrial locations," the company wrote in the announcement. "Data on local demographics are overlaid with cuisine-specific demand mapping to determine the best locations for these centers, as well as the best partner fit from its growing list of participating restaurants. Once in the facility, Kitchen United provides its restaurants access to opt-in consumer and operational data to tailor their businesses, meet consumer demand, and realize operational efficiency."

Kitchen United isn't alone in this aggressive, tech-savvy approach to the world of expanding delivery. TechCrunch recently wrote "The next big restaurant chain may not own any kitchens," an article that also discusses other brands in this space like CloudKitchens, which was started by Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, and Pilotworks, which is backed by the investment arm of The Campbell Soup Company. As TechCrunch explains, what gives these companies hope over other delivery-focused brands that have failed is "that they're not required to actually create the next big successful concept in fast food or casual dining. They just have to enable it."

Of course, ordering from a restaurant but knowing those meals aren't coming from the actual "restaurant" might feel a bit odd. But at the same time, if these companies do what they promise, you won't even be able to notice something you didn't really even think about to begin with. Just don't try to drop in for your next meal: All you'll find is a converted warehouse.

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