EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — When it comes to meal delivery apps, you may think you know where your food is coming from, but do you?
Imagine this: it’s a Friday night and you just got home from work. Exhausted, you open your phone and select your meal delivery service of choice. Deciding to be adventurous, you select a burger joint you’ve never heard of, thinking you’ll support a new small business. Unbeknownst to you, however, that order went to a large chain restaurant that is preparing that food under a different name.
This is the world of ghost kitchens, also known as dark, zombie, virtual, and cloud kitchens.
A ghost kitchen is a restaurant that solely exists for delivery and/or take-out orders and commonly operates out of a preexisting kitchen. These kitchens utilize services like DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and other similar apps to deliver their products.
How it generally works is the parent company sends the kitchen their prepackaged meals or ingredients and then the meals are either simply reheated, or cooked on-site. The food usually gets its own branding, although in our test, we received Wow Bow branded boxes inside of a TGIFridays bag.
Eyewitness News reached out to Shannon Powers, the Press Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture who says, “Under Pennsylvania’s Retail Food Facility Safety Act, (ghost kitchens) may be considered a retail food facility, requiring licensing and inspections by the PA Department of Agriculture.”
In Wilkes-Barre alone, we found at least ten different restaurants being run out of already established locations such as TGI Fridays, Buffalo Wild Wings, Smokey Bones, and other similar restaurants.
Concerned customers, like Miles Thomas, say this is a lack of transparency.
“It’s shady. I don’t like it and I wouldn’t order from one.”
With virtual kitchens having limited to no branding as such, depending on the platform, customers may think they are ordering from an independent kitchen, when in fact they are ordering from another pre-established location.
“They’re fooling consumers into thinking it is a unique experience when it’s no different than going for gas station food,” Thomas said.
When asked about their stance on ghost kitchens, DoorDash sent us a statement reading in part:
The statement continues to explain that they try to label all virtual restaurants as such on the platform, but as of the time of this writing, multiple had limited to no labeling.
To check if a restaurant is a ghost kitchen, you can look at the address of the establishment in question and check it against Google Maps, if you see another business there, chances are you’re looking at a ghost kitchen.