- Ghost kitchens, also known as dark kitchens, are one of the buzziest trends in the restaurant business, as chains like Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s explore delivery-centric concepts.
- Chipotle executives say that the company does not need to partner with ghost-kitchen companies because the chain, functionally, already has a dark kitchen in every location thanks to the second, digital make line.
- “No one else has a dedicated digital restaurant within every restaurant,” chief technology officer Curt Garner said.
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As Chipotle doubles down on delivery and digital orders, executives say the fast-casual chain does not need to partner with buzzy ghost-kitchen concepts.
Chains including Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, and Sweetgreen have recently opened up ghost or dark kitchens, which are delivery-centric locations without dining rooms. Ghost kitchens allow restaurants to cut expenses, exploring a new area or building delivery capacity without the cost of opening a new restaurant.
However, while Chipotle has seen explosive growth in digital sales, driven in part by delivery orders over the past year, executives say the chain is not currently looking into ghost kitchens in the US.
“We have 2,450 or 2,500 dark kitchens,” chief financial officer Jack Hartung told Business Insider in November. “It’s a second make line.”
Earlier this year, Chipotle completed its rollout of the digital make line across the US, meaning that every location has a second burrito assembly line focused solely on digital orders. This digital make line has been one of Brian Niccol’s focuses since he joined the company as CEO in March 2018.
While Chipotle has a ghost kitchen in London and is closely watching the space, Hartung said that Chipotle’s digital make line fulfils the same purpose as the ghost kitchen: battling capacity constraints.
“A capacity constraint might be, you have a lot of business in your front counter, you maybe have a drive-thru … and now you have this digital” business, Hartung said. “And you have one production line. Well, Chipotle has a dark kitchen in every single restaurant.”
Earlier this year, Chipotle rebranded the “second make line” as the “digital make line” – a small but purposeful tweak that reveals how important this line is to the future of Chipotle’s business.
Chief technology officer Curt Garner said that the change was “really important because second seemed to make it less than, or perhaps an afterthought.” Managers would pull people off of the second make line when stores got busy, focusing on staffing the customer-facing make line. By renaming the make line, digital is no longer a nice-but-secondary sales channel. Instead, it serves as a separate, semi-independent restaurant.
A second line essentially doubles Chipotle’s maximum capacity. As of October, digital orders made up roughly 18% of Chipotle’s total business, growing 87.9% in the most recent quarter.
Hartung says that even at locations where digital is 40% of sales, the second make line means the locations are still not at maximum capacity. Hartung says he expects digital orders to one day account for “30%, 40%, 50%” of Chipotle’s business one day. As delivery and mobile orders explode, the digital make line gives the company an advantage over competitors that are partnering with ghost kitchens.
“No one else has a dedicated digital restaurant within every restaurant,” Garner said.
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