They've already changed the face of the traditional restaurant sector - and now takeaway app Deliveroo's 'dark kitchens' are making their presence felt in Leeds.
'Dark kitchens' are rented industrial units, usually based in an out-of-town business park, which are leased to restaurant brands for use as delivery-only kitchens.
Deliveroo has several of these sites in cities across the UK, known as Deliveroo Editions kitchens, and they are expanding the concept.
In Leeds, three clients of Deliveroo have Editions kitchen units at the Scott Hall Mills industrial complex near Meanwood, which has been operational since October 2017.
However, between them they are operating 10 separate 'restaurants' under different branding.
Deliveroo readily admits that some of the Editions brands listed on the app are not affiliated to actual restaurants. Others are offshoots of existing food and drink chains with no separate high street presence of their own.
Why do restaurants use ‘dark kitchens’?
Some businesses lease them as a way to test a local market in advance of potentially opening a seated restaurant further down the line - fried chicken chain Yard and Coop, which already has restaurants in Manchester and Liverpool, rented a unit at Scott Hall Mills last year and built up a popular following before launching its Merrion Street restaurant in Leeds city centre this month. Burger brand Smashburger, which has seven restaurants across the UK, had a kitchen at Scott Hall Mills but has since ended the lease and no longer has a presence in Leeds.
Others have spotted an opportunity to launch entirely new menus under a different brand and develop a separate, and often unsuspecting, customer base - which in some cases will never translate to a high street opening.
For large chains, it's often a way of simply expanding their capacity and fulfilling more takeaway orders.
Restaurant chains love the convenience of 'dark kitchens' - they can increase their income from delivery orders without the overheads of opening more high street restaurants, while staff at the main kitchen no longer have to spend time preparing takeaway meals and dealing with Deliveroo couriers, freeing them up to focus on sit-in customers.
For consumers, they offer additional choice and a range of new menus, while delivery radius distances often increase once an out-of-town base has been established.
Deliveroo find and equip the kitchen units, but the tenants employ their own staff to work in them. Some workers are offered higher rates of pay to work in the small units without the face-to-face interaction of a restaurant job.
Which restaurants are using the Leeds site and which brands have they set up?
1. Proove Pizza. Proove already has eat-in restaurants in Sheffield and Manchester, and operate a kitchen at Scott Hall Mills for takeaway orders. However, they've also opened a new brand from their rented unit - Pizza Stars, which is delivery-only. While Proove focuses on traditional Italian pizzas, Pizza Stars' offerings are inspired by New York deep dish pizzas. The good news is that the market testing has been effective - Proove are opening a Leeds restaurant very soon, according to their website.
2. Zouk Tea Bar. The Indian restaurant and shisha lounge has restaurants in Manchester and Bradford, and the Manchester site is popular with celebrities and footballers - Drake, Rihanna and Mario Balotelli have all visited. They serve Zouk food from their Editions kitchen in Scott Hall Mills, but have also launched two new, associated takeaway-only brands, called Khana Wala and Spice of India. It's not known if there are plans to open a restaurant in Leeds.
3. Noodle Inn. Another Sheffield restaurant which has expanded into Leeds by opening an Editions kitchen. As well as noodle dishes, they have launched two new brands from their unit - Japanese-inspired Mr Miyagi Ramen & Bao and dim sum La Mei Zi.
You can also order Halo Top ice cream to be delivered from the site.
What does the restaurant industry think of dark kitchens?
Although many new, millennial-friendly brands and large chains have embraced Deliveroo Editions, there has been suspicion and hostility from the traditional restaurant industry, who have warned of the effect on footfall.
Yawar Khan, chairman of the Asian Catering Federation, even suggested that the rise of takeaway apps could kill off sit-down restaurants completely.
“We have already lost a vast amount of retail volume to online business - empty properties with To Let boards are everywhere. We need restaurants to drive the footfall, which is vital for surviving business.”
What do trade unions think?
Concerns have been raised over treatment of staff, who have less human interaction that their counterparts in busy restaurants and tend to work in much more cramped conditions.
However, many chains offer higher hourly pay to Editions chefs to compensate for this.There are also fears that food hygiene and allergen control standards are not as high in dark kitchens, though Deliveroo’s Editions business in Leeds has a five-star hygiene rating.
Surely more choice is good for customers?
If you live in certain parts of Leeds and use the Deliveroo app, you'll have noticed an expansion in the range of restaurants available to deliver to your door, even if you live outside the city centre delivery radius area. This is largely due to the opening of Scott Hall Mills as a Deliveroo Editions site. It increases customer choice and also gives you access to new menus and brands that don't have restaurants attached to them.
There's also the Food Market feature, allowing you to mix and match dishes from completely different businesses - you can order pizza with ramen if you want to. This is only available if the menus are listed as Deliveroo Editions, because the respective kitchen units are located on the same site.
Although the brands are labelled as Editions on the Deliveroo app, users may not realise that this means their food is coming from a dark kitchen rather than a restaurant, and some people might feel misled by the situation.
More on Deliveroo's 'Dark Kitchens'
Why do the restaurant chains like it?
Operating an Editions kitchen is much cheaper - rents and utility costs are lower as the space is smaller and is usually away from expensive high street locations. Deliveroo also provide kitchen equipment.
Deliveroo also support Editions clients to brand and market their business and tenants can save on food costs and cut wastage.
What do Deliveroo say about Editions kitchens?
A spokesperson for the firm said: "Deliveroo Editions kitchens are helping local restaurants deal with industry pressures whilst enabling them to reach new customers to boost their revenues.
“Editions are purpose-built delivery only kitchens, allowing restaurants to set up shop without having to open a premise on the high street. Restaurants who operate out of these kitchens don’t have the usual capital costs of setting up a bricks and mortar site, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
"Through Editions kitchens, Deliveroo supports restaurants to create virtual brands. Creating virtual restaurants allows existing restaurants to increase revenue and attract more customers by offering new or complementary cuisines from their current kitchen, but under new branding.
“Deliveroo uses its rich data to identify local food trends and cuisine demand to partner with restaurants to create menus which will appeal to local audiences with pricing that will also be attractive to consumers."
More on Deliveroo's 'Dark Kitchens'