Tips From Chef Chic and Reigning Tucson Iron Chef Champion

By Chef Wendy Gauthier founder of Chef Chic and Reigning Tucson Iron Chef Champion

In the beginning, we never thought about conceptualizing a “ghost restaurant.” We’ve always
done personal cheffing, meal delivery and catering. However, we decided to open up in a
location that was a little more accessible to clientele because our meal delivery service was just
getting so busy. We visualized a concept where customers could come in and choose from
meals in display cases. While we do have a couple of tables, this was never going to be a
dine-in restaurant and so our ghost restaurant was born!

Now that the landscape has changed due to the pandemic, we expect a lot more restaurants will
be opening or converting to this concept. The lack of a dining room and waitstaff means much
lower overhead as an obvious benefit. We also have the freedom to explore so many more
styles and cuisines.

For anyone considering this venture, here are our biggest takeaways from being virtual

Location, Location, Location
Many ghost restaurants open in less expensive, less desirable parts of town. However, we
wanted an approachable storefront to offer carry-out service in a welcoming environment. We
highly recommend paying a little more for a better location. The better location more than makes
up for the increase in price to be in a desirable area. We also don’t have to worry about a lot of
parking; patrons are typically in and out rather than parking and staying for a while.

Does the Kitchen Size Matter?
On the subject of space, obviously having a large kitchen is nice, but it isn’t necessary. One
necessary consideration, however, is that you need a lot more prep space to package your
meals. Aside from that, the kitchen size is simply a matter of timing and speed; a larger kitchen
means more crew and faster production.

An Online Presence is Key
It’s important to keep in mind just how much time it takes to maintain your online presence. We
have an online ordering system, which we update daily. We also post daily on both Facebook
and Instagram letting customers know what’s available that day. We recently stopped posting
for a time period of 3 days and saw a direct dip in sales.

Expect to Tinker with Packaging
Getting the packaging right was one of the bigger challenges. You can’t use the inexpensive
styrofoam. You need to think about people traveling home with the meals as well as heating
them up. Whatever packaging you choose, it needs a tight enclosure so nothing pops open
during the ride home. It also needs to at least be microwave safe.

Expect to Tinker with Menu Offerings
You have to feel out your clientele. It’s not a restaurant, so you have to figure out what people
want to eat when they’re dining at home. Since we already do custom personal cheffing, we
also have the ability to offer some of the options people are used to with that service, like gluten
or dairy-free options. With us, if someone comes in with a more specific request, we then
recommend our personal chef services.

A Team Effort is Vital
Creating a collaborative environment is key. No single person can be everywhere at once.
Every chef and every employee provides feedback from clientele as well as ideas.

How Does Delivery Work?
We already had our delivery service set up with our prepared meal delivery business. However,
we also partner with DoorDash and a local delivery service. Delivery services are very easy to
work with, though they do add to the cost.

Maintain a Community within the Industry
We’re constantly meeting with other chefs and visiting each other’s establishments. While we
haven’t collaborated or partnered with any chef or restaurant yet, we regularly visit and then
give shout outs by tagging each other on social media. It provides a solid sense of support,
camaraderie and, of course, we all get exposure to wider audiences. There are tough times
ahead for the restaurant industry and everything we can do to prop each other up helps us all as
a whole.