New dining experiences that are customizable, ordered on mobile and easily changed up? Yes, please. That’s what college communities are seeking, and Chartwells Higher Ed is implementing ghost kitchens—virtual or delivery-only kitchens—a concept that was starting to haunt the college dining landscape before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, ghost kitchens have really manifested themselves, providing a solution to increased student demand for delivery options.
Starting as a pilot program at a few colleges and universities, Chartwells’ culinary teams have been developing creative new meal concepts for delivery or contactless pickup that integrate into Chartwells’ existing mobile ordering platform. A couple of the key points: more menu offerings that could be customized to local students’ preferences and available at convenient hours.
Pilot schools for the ghost kitchen program included Seattle University, SUNY Buffalo State College, the University of Utah, the University of Texas at Dallas and San Jose State University.
CEO of Chartwells Higher Education Lisa McEuen said in a press release the ghost kitchens are “a great solution” that can offer something new—that holy grail of ‘captive audience’ dining—without creating any big dents in the budget or the floor plan.
“A benefit to the program is that many of our campuses are already well-equipped to implement ghost kitchens at a low cost,” McEuen said. “They don’t have to replace any meal concepts or shut down a location; all they need kitchen space and they can have a ghost kitchen up and running very quickly.”
At Seattle University, where over 90% of the campus was online during the fall 2020 quarter, Chartwells’ pilot kitchen opened in September to help with menu variety on weekends. The menu featured 12 rotating entrees and 12 desserts, made to order through the mobile ordering app. Within the first month, more than 24,000 orders were placed and “the feedback so far has been phenomenal,” according to said Terry Conaty, resident district manager at Seattle University.
“We decided to open our ghost kitchen in response to students and parents looking for increased meal variety and a safe alternative to on-campus dining, particularly on the weekends and for plant-based options,” Conaty said. “Our team was able to get the program up and running quickly, and our costs were minimal as we simply repurposed existing kitchen space. It’s a win-win because we’re providing students with lots of new menu options without having to add additional personnel resources or compromise our social distancing guidelines."
Since the ghost kitchen setup has proven to be successful and affordable at the pilot schools, Chartwells has announced its intention to push forward with more ghost kitchens on more campuses across the country.