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How to know if you’re ordering local from food delivery apps

We’re breaking down what a ghost kitchen really is.

Four people standing in front of T'so Chinese, wearing branded T-shirts

T’so Chinese is owned by local husband-and-wife team Min and Jenna Choe.

Although humans have used numerous methods to get food delivered to their homes for over 100 years, food delivery apps didn’t go mainstream until the early 2010s.

Now, in the post-pandemic era, food delivery services have a hand in all kinds of spheres beyond apps. Think: pop-ups, autonomous delivery robots, and ghost kitchens. But do you know where that food is coming from?

After watching this deep dive into Los Angeles ghost kitchens — or virtual kitchens — we wanted to break the local scene down for you. We started by asking our readers if they had ever ordered from a ghost kitchen.

An orange pie chart showing 31.6% of ATXtoday readers have ordered from a ghost kitchen, 44.1% haven't, and 24.3% aren't sure if they have or have not.

This survey result is based off of 152 total responses.

Graphic by ATXtoday

Almost half said they hadn’t, and just under a quarter said they weren’t sure if they had ordered from a ghost kitchen.

What is a ghost kitchen?

Essentially, a ghost kitchen is a commercial restaurant that only sells food for pick-up or delivery, and has no physical space for customers to dine in. Ghost kitchens can be independent local businesses, run by parent companies, or operate out of currently existing restaurants.

It can be pretty difficult to tell them apart — according to the National Restaurant Association and Technomic, around 51% of US restaurants ran ghost kitchens in 2020, when the pandemic skyrocketed delivery businesses. Today, that number is hard to gauge, but ghost kitchens were valued at $56.7 billion globally in 2021.

Some ghost kitchens are locally-owned, like Austin-based Tso Chinese, a family-owned business with four locations around the Hill Country. Some are based out of locally-owned commercial kitchen spaces for rent, like GhostLine Kitchens.

A side-by-side comparison of Pardon My Cheesesteak and IHOP showing the same address.

IHOP runs multiple restaurants out of the 707 E. Cesar Chavez St. location.

Graphic by ATXtoday

Others have a familiar name attached. You may have heard that Pasqually’s Pizza and Wings operates out of Chuck-E-Cheese, but maybe not that Super Mega Dilla and Pardon My Cheesesteak operate out of IHOP, It’s Just Wings operates out of Chili’s, or that The Meltdown and The Burger Den operate out of Denny’s. Wendy’s has plans to open 700 ghost kitchens across the US by 2025.

Some ghost kitchen concepts are created by celebrities, like Mr. Beast or Noah Schnapp, and can operate out of any number of already existing kitchens, including the aforementioned IHOP.

The Burger Den uses the same photos at each location.

The Burger Den uses the same photos on each listing.

Photo by ATXtoday

How to order from a local restaurant

All that is to say food coming from delivery apps could come from any number of locations. Submitted opinions on the food’s quality varied significantly — reader Teo R. said the food he ordered was “generally mid,” but more than half of readers said they would give a ghost kitchen another chance.

If you want to order from a local ghost kitchen, here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • The address — if it’s shared with an existing restaurant, it most likely comes from that restaurant.
  • The branding — if it looks similar to another restaurant listing, it may come from the same company.
  • The website — most ghost kitchens mention they are pick-up and delivery only, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t locally-owned.
  • The photos — pictures identical to another listing are a sign the restaurant is not independently owned.

If that seems like a lot of work, you can try one of these pre-vetted ghost kitchens around town.

Do you have any questions about ghost kitchens? Let us know what you would like to see us cover next.

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