The ultimate checklist for ghost kitchen success: 12 steps for running a successful online restaurant

Ghost kitchens are taking the foodservice industry by storm.

These unconventional businesses are upending the norms surrounding traditional restaurant models and experiencing a massive amount of success as a result.

But the success of ghost kitchens (aka, “dark kitchens”) doesn’t just appear out of thin air like an actual ghost. Achieving success in this emerging space requires making the right moves.

So, to help your ghost kitchen thrive, we put together a checklist for achieving success.

Follow the twelve steps below and your ghost kitchen will find itself well on its way to success—both now and in the future.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Manage order information from a central location

Online order allows foodservice providers to expand their operations well beyond the confines of their brick-and-mortar locations; however, this increased service means more information to keep track of (and potentially more headaches).

Foodservice operations need a fully integrated POS system that consolidates orders that come in from websites, third-party apps, phones, Google, and social media

That’s essential.

Yes. You can get by with multiple tablets to track online orders from different apps. But having every order route through an integrated POS system will save your operation time and reduce confusion and mistakes.

Luckily, there has never been a better time to shop around for these integrated POS systems. Toast, Upserve, Lightspeed, Clover, and Square are some of the most well-known.

To find more information on a POS system that can help integrate your ghost kitchen, check out’s Best POS System for Restaurants.

Step 2: Make it extra easy to upsell your guests

By nature, online ordering makes it incredibly easy for guests to order food. So, why not design the process to make it incredibly easy for your customers to add additional items to their orders?

Getting customers to add additional items to their orders is simple. Here are a few tactics you can use to boost the upsell as guests order through your website:

  1. Create a pop-up notification that the guest triggers during the end of the ordering process. Before they click purchase, a pop-up on their screen allows them to add a discounted dessert or drink to the meal.
  2. Put a notification for a discounted dish or item that customers will see at the beginning of the ordering process. People love a good deal or anything that makes them feel like they’re saving money (even if it means they’re spending more by adding another item to their order).
  3. Suggest seasonal items that customers can purchase with their orders. If it’s close to Valentine’s day, put an option on your website for people to add a box of in-house chocolates to their order before or after ordering.
  4. Encourage customers to create an account with your business to speed up and streamline the ordering process. Returning guests can simply repeat orders from the past.

All it takes for a customer to say “yes” to an additional item is the click of a button. So, make sure you ask for the extra sale. Sometimes, “the ask” is the only thing separating your guest from adding more to their order. So, go ahead and ask.

Step 3: Streamline the process from cooking to delivery

Ghost kitchens that experience the highest profits also have some of the highest levels of efficiency. In these operations, each step of the fulfillment process has been streamlined—from receiving orders to cooking food to sending it out the door.

So, where can ghost kitchens benefit the most from streamlining their operations? Well, they can start by focusing on simplifying the menu and the food prep process.

Limited menus that are easy to learn, simple to learn, and fast to cook save ghost kitchen staff valuable time, which translates to fewer labor costs and an increased volume of orders moving out the door.

These limited menus require fewer ingredients, which means ghost kitchens can maintain a smaller inventory. Smaller inventories create less waste and fewer complications with supply chain shortages—both of which impact the bottom line.

Ghost kitchens can invest in a more formalized labeling system to reduce wasted food and time. The options include pre-printed food labels that staff can fill in by hand or an automated food labeling system, such as the DateCodeGenie®.

In either case, pre-printed labels or an automated labeling system significantly speed up the food prep labeling process, which saves the valuable time of ghost kitchen staff. Plus, these labeling systems drastically cut back on mistakes that can lead to food waste and even—in the worst-case—foodborne illnesses. And food safety inspectors love formalized labeling systems, which makes these labeling systems even more of a benefit to ghost kitchens.

Finally, ghost kitchens can further increase their efficiency by ordering pre-prepped food. Getting bags of pre-chopped greens or veggies might come with an added cost, but if your ghost kitchen produces a large volume of food, your staff might not have the time to prep ingredients. In these instances, pre-prepped ingredients are worth the extra spend.

Step 4: Leverage the power of your brand

Since ghost kitchens operate without any front-of-house staff to create memorable brand experiences, they need to rely more on the power of their brand to make a positive impression on customers.

When your customer picks up their phone to order dinner or lunch, you want your brand to immediately come to mind. A powerful brand experience can help with that.

So, make sure that your brand is front and center when your customer orders food from your ghost kitchen. You can do that easily by placing your logo on a tamper-evident label that then folds over the top of a to-go bag containing the customer’s delivery order.

And if the logo is in full color, it makes an even bigger impact.

When you create to-go and delivery labels using the DateCodeGenie automated labeling system, you get a solution that can create tamper-evident, full-color labels like those mentioned above.

Interested in seeing the DateCodeGenie in action? Click here to request a personalized product demo.

Step 5: Maintain a robust presence on social media

This step might seem obvious since most businesses are now on social media, but this is a point worth stressing. Social media allows your ghost kitchen to post organic content and gives you the option to run affordable, highly-targeted ads to customers and prospects.

Plus, having a presence on social media gives people a chance to discover and research your ghost kitchen. In fact, according to Sprout Social, 78% of Gen Z (aka “Zoomers) report using social media to research new brands before making a purchase. That goes for food brands too.

So, if you’re not on social media, you’re missing the chance for potential customers to learn about and discover what you have to offer.

Not having a presence on social media is equivalent to listing a business’s physical address online and having no actual store in that location. Give online shoppers the digital space to interact with your brand. Even a minimal presence on social media can help customers discover your business.

Step 6: Partner with influencers to promote your brand

Social media gives your brand the digital real-estate to interact with customers and prospects in search of information. Plus, it allows your brand to spread the word by partnering with online influencers.

Brands that partner with influencers on social media typically earn $5.78 for each dollar they spend. That’s a pretty solid ROI.

And there’s no end to the astounding stats beyond that. 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations to make a purchase. And 40% of consumers have purchased a product or service after seeing it on Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram.

We could continue to dish out the stats (believe us, there are plenty more), but you get the picture—influencers are important, and social media allows you to work with them.

Even micro-influencers (social media users with 10,000-50,000 followers) can make a big difference in spreading the word about your brand. Plus, for smaller brands especially, they’re more affordable to work with.

When you consider your marketing strategy, consider influencers.

Step 7: Weave quality into your service

As mentioned before, ghost kitchens operate without the front-of-house staff members that help create memorable, positive guest experiences by offering exemplary service. So, ghost kitchens must employ other tactics to create positive brand experiences that keep guests satisfied and happy.

Think small when looking for ways to weave quality into your service. Start by using quality packaging that helps your food retain its freshness for as long as possible.

After all, your customers can taste the difference between oven-fresh food and food sitting in steamy cardboard for too long. As you know, they prefer one over the other.

So, give them the taste they’re looking for—invest in food packaging that retains heat without making the meal soggy.

And show your customers that their food is safe and ready to enjoy by sealing their meals with tamper-evident labels. Each unbroken label shows your customers that you went the extra mile to protect their health and safety. That’s a small detail that can make a big difference.

If you’re looking for a way to brand your products, packaging, and tamper-evident labels on the spot, consider the DateCodeGenie. This automated labeling solution can further customize tamper-evident labels with customer names, order numbers, and other information that keep orders organized and moving out the door.

To learn more about the tamper-evident difference, click here.

Step 8: List your restaurant with review platforms

These days, customers have grown accustomed to researching a brand before making their purchasing decisions, so make sure your brand appears on review platforms such as Google, Yelp, and Trip Advisor.

These review platforms give potential customers another way to research your brand before making a spending decision. So, if you’re not on these platforms, a customer might get suspicious and choose a different restaurant with a more significant online presence and information.

Luckily, these platforms make it easy to register. To start appearing in local searches, create a business profile with Google.

Again, it’s easy, and it’s well worth the effort.

Step 9: Stay in touch with a newsletters & emails

We tend to forget about email because it’s not as flashy and new as social media. But ghost kitchens that remember to use email gain a serious competitive advantage.

According to HubSpot, 4 billion people use email daily, making it a practical and even personal way to reach people. So, what are the benefits?

Using email to send customers newsletters or other promotional materials can help your ghost kitchen stay top of mind for your customers.

Imagine a customer opening a newsletter from your brand in their email inbox and then later logging onto a third-party app to order takeout. Guess whose brand will likely come to mind first—it’s yours. That’s simply basic psychology at work.

And if a customer receives a coupon or discount as part of that weekly or monthly newsletter from your ghost kitchen, they’re even more likely to order their next meal through your business.

Like social media, a website, and a presence on review platforms, email and newsletters give your customers another way to engage with your brand in online spaces. That’s where your ghost kitchen thrives, so make sure to meet your customers there.

Step 10: Review your reviews (online especially)

Giving your customers what they want starts with listening to your customers. For a ghost kitchen, that means tuning into those online review platforms we mentioned earlier.

You can expect customers to leave reviews whether they like or dislike your brand. In either case, you should read and respond to every single one of these reviews. Yes. EVERY. SINGLE. REVIEW. Read them. Respond to them.

If people like your food, your job is easy. Thank your reviewers for their support and for writing a review. Encourage them to return and tell their friends. People like acknowledgment, and that doesn’t change when they go online.

When an angry or unsatisfied customer leaves you a review, your job becomes a bit more complicated. But don’t be deterred. How you respond makes a big difference.

Most of the time, the person leaving a bad review is just looking for attention. So, meet them where they’re at by giving them some attention. While your reviewers might not admit it, they more likely than not will appreciate the attention—even if that’s on a subconscious level.

An unhappy customer that has been responded to positively might become a happy customer in the end. An unhappy customer who never receives a response will likely remain unhappy. And they aren’t going to do you any favors when it comes time to recommend your brand. In fact, they might even do you harm.

Tell unhappy customers that you’re sorry they had a bad experience and that you want to make it up to them. Encourage them to email your customer support staff with their complaint and make it up to them by giving them a one-off discount on their next meal. You can still win them over. The effort is worth it.

Step 11: Make sure your website is user-friendly

Ask yourself this, when you order a product online, do you want the process to be easy and fast or complicated and frustrating?

You know the answer. You want a seamless, easy experience, and your customers feel the same. So, give them what they want. Create a website that makes ordering a positive, memorable experience.

And here’s the other thing—if your website is difficult to use and your competition has a website that’s easy to use, your customers might just choose to go with your competition, especially if they’re tired at the end of a long day or week.

You can take several steps to streamline the user experience and set yourself apart from the competition. These tactics include:

  1. Use Google/Apple autocomplete when you can. This function makes the ordering process much quicker and easier.
  2. Provide text input fields (instead of drop-down menus) for dates.
  1. Include a progress bar so customers can see how long the process will take. This transparency reduces frustration on a subconscious level.
  • Refrain from offering too many item categories. Have you heard the term “analysis paralysis”? You experience it when looking at a menu with way too many pages or an aisle of cereal with way too many options. Do your customers (and your staff) a favor—keep it simple.
  • Offer a points reward program. When you have your customers sign up for such a program, you can save their order information, which makes the order process a lot easier in the future. Plus, these programs incentivize customers to return later on.
  • Give your customers the chance to search for items through an intuitive search bar. And make sure to include detailed descriptions of each item as well.

Step 12: Maintain a healthy stock of kitchen essentials

We’ve all seen how supply chain issues complicate the heck out of business—and not in a good way. So, to ensure your ghost kitchen maintains a healthy stockpile of the basic kitchen essentials it needs to run smoothly and without interruption.

These essential items aren’t necessarily glamorous, but if your ghost kitchen runs out of kitchen register rolls, prep labels, or tamper-evident labels for delivery orders, that can throw a wrench in operations. And anytime a ghost kitchen experiences a service disruption, it leads to a decline in profitability.

Luckily, you can count on NCCO to keep your ghost kitchen supplied with all the essentials.

For more information on the products and solutions NCCO provides to help ghost kitchens thrive, visit our ghost kitchen featured products page.

Or, talk to your distributor and ask them about the NCCO products they have in stock.