Food service provider Chartwells Higher Ed is experimenting with a new approach to on-campus dining with virtual or delivery-only kitchens that the company calls "ghost kitchens." Despite the virtual or delivery only model being implemented prior to the pandemic, the new normal has more universities than ever before exploring the ghost kitchen formula.
One of the key factors underpinning the Chartwells ghost kitchen concept is that it meets students at their increased demand for delivery options. Starting as a pilot program at a select few colleges and universities, Chartwells is developing creative new meal concepts for delivery or contactless pickup that integrate into the company’s existing mobile ordering platform.
The idea behind the ghost kitchen initiative is to provide more menu offerings that can be customized to local student preferences and be made available at across more convenient hours.
Chartwells' pilot institutions for the ghost kitchen program include Seattle University, SUNY Buffalo State College, the University of Utah, the University of Texas at Dallas and San Jose State University.
The ghost kitchen concept could also help to maximize a university's existing infrastructure without impacting budgets or floor plans.
“A benefit to the program is that many of our campuses are already well-equipped to implement ghost kitchens at a low cost,” says Lisa McEuen, CEO of Chartwells Higher Education. “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.”
One of Chartwells' pilot locations, Seattle University, saw over 90% of its campus population move to online learning during the fall 2020 quarter. Chartwells’ ghost kitchen opened in September to help with menu variety on weekends.
The menu at Seattle University featured 12 rotating entrees and 12 desserts, made to order through the mobile ordering app. More than 24,000 orders were placed in the first month alone.
“Our team was able to get the program up and running quickly, and our costs were minimal as we simply repurposed existing kitchen space," says Terry Conaty, resident district manager at Seattle University. "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 concept has proven its viability at the pilot institutions, Chartwells has expressed its intent to push forward with more ghost kitchens on more campuses across the country.