Universities Test Ghost Kitchens

Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor - Restaurants
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Chartwells' program allows campuses to quickly and easily implement new dining experiences virtually anywhere they have kitchen space.

Chartwells Higher Education, a provider of contract food service management, is helping colleges and universities around the country successfully open ghost kitchens.

The move comes as restaurants are also partnering with ghost kitchens as demand for off-premises dining is on the rise. Ghost kitchens are projected to reach a $1 trillion global market by 2030, according to Euromonitor research, making them an attractive concept for operators now and in the future.

More Competition in Curbside and Delivery

Chartwells' culinary teams have been working with a number of pilot schools to develop new and creative meal concepts for delivery or contactless pickup that seamlessly integrate into Chartwells' existing mobile ordering platform. Their goal was to provide more menu offerings that could be customized to local students' preferences and available at convenient hours. Chartwells piloted its ghost kitchens program at select schools nationwide, including Seattle University, SUNY Buffalo State College, University of Utah, University of Texas at Dallas and San Jose State University.

"Our goal is to continuously give students access to a variety of dining options and menus, and ghost kitchens are a great solution since it offers them a completely new and unique dining experience," said Lisa McEuen, CEO of Chartwells Higher Education. "A benefit to the program is that many of our campuses are already well-equipped to implement ghost kitchens at a low cost. They don't have to replace any meal concepts or shut down a location; all they need is kitchen space and they can have a ghost kitchen up and running very quickly."

Chartwells worked with Seattle University, where over 90% of the campus was online during the fall 2020 quarter, to create a ghost kitchen and help pilot the broader nationwide program. The kitchen opened in September to offer greater menu variety on weekends. The menu consisted of  12 rotating entrees and 12 desserts, made to order through Chartwells' mobile ordering app. The ghost kitchen saw more than 24,000 orders placed within the first month.

"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. The feedback so far has been phenomenal," said Terry Conaty, Resident District Manager at Seattle University. "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."