Bringing Ghost Kitchens To The Next Level

Online-only F&B players must evolve to meet new customer needs

Whether you know them as cloud, ghost or virtual kitchens, the idea of a physical space catering only to preparing food for off-premises consumption has been around for a while in Singapore. However, more of such facilities have opened in the past two years as F&B players seek to meet the surge in demand for food delivery orders, which have arisen due to the pandemic.

Ghost kitchens have undeniably helped local businesses all over the island. Whilst delivery charges can add up very quickly, they make up for sales that would not otherwise have been secured. That being said, what has emerged in this competitive environment is that the modern consumer is pushing back against generic copycat brands, especially those with only an online presence.

Whilst the necessity for delivery during the circuit-breaker was clear, we are seeing huge changes to the delivery model and its sustainability, as consumer fatigue sets in and contributes to a flagging number of meals delivered across Singapore.

We expect that the correct business response to this is the development of meaningful food experiences to match a sustainable and accessible price point.

Enhancing the F&B business model

The Refectory is an omnichannel and multi-label F&B hub, comprising BRDL Restaurant & Bar, GLEAN Café and Dining Hall, and customisable event spaces, while also providing an ecosystem to innovate and promote growth for F&B entrepreneurs.

However, beyond just a ghost kitchen, we see ourselves as a toughened, evolved version of a traditional F&B organisation, with the ability to meet a wide variety of food and event-related needs.

Through our existing F&B concepts, we are armed with complete event capabilities and a vast network of partners and aim to solidify the development of sound and profitable home-grown F&B businesses, giving them a platform for sustainable growth.

With an eye towards the modern, digitally-oriented consumer, The Refectory aims to develop opportunities for overseas growth, whilst addressing key F&B needs in regional territories that can be addressed with our network of partners. We believe that this helps differentiate us from the usual run-of-the-mill ghost kitchens. By diversifying our services, we can create greater value for our customers, and it also helps us reduce our risks.

Forging an emotional connection

The pandemic was a silver lining for us as it provided an opportunity to tap into new, upcoming market needs. During the onset of the pandemic, we noticed that the conventional model of ghost/cloud/virtual kitchens was very much lacking in establishing an emotional connection with consumers. Most of such kitchens are impersonal, lacking in soul, and at risk of being made obsolete especially when consumers return to dine-in and socialising.

We found that hybrid F&B-oriented venues could better fulfil various requirements depending on the type of demand identified. Hence, we explored innovative types of socially-distanced events, engaged in large-scale live-streaming and content development, and took pains to clearly map out consumer demand gaps during this tumultuous period to identify new opportunities.

Injecting dynamism into the operations

We concluded that the uncertainty faced by the food industry at present can only be addressed by developing dynamism in operations; having the assets and ability to quickly pivot from weddings to festive deliveries, time-limited collaborations to partner product launches, dependable everyday meals to innovative modern cocktails.

In addition to being nimble in our core operations, we have created and are growing an accelerated notion of collaboration and community. For example, we are growing our very own community of like-minded F&B brands, peers, and partners, to come together and create various channels and events, to progress collectively.

Going forward, we will continue to strengthen our omnichannel ecosystem and approach, integrating technology with our existing brick-and-mortar brands, namely BRDL Restaurant & Bar and GLEAN Café, and increase the number of digital brands at our Dining Hall concept.

We also look to expand our presence in the community through partnerships with emerging and established brands in the F&B industry and create a series of dining experiences and events at The Refectory that are impactful to the trade and actively engage consumers.

As the entry of new businesses in this industry means that consumers are literally spoilt for choice now, a sustainable business must take advantage of the new ways consumers want to remain engaged, in order to stand out in a competitive business environment.

By Ming Tan, Brand Director, The Refectory Concepts