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Restaurants that Don’t Exist
Did you hear about that trendy new grilled cheese spot?
The Meltdown is a delivery-only restaurant offering “handcrafted sandwiches with attitude.”
It’s also a Denny’s.
The Meltdown is one of a growing group of “ghost kitchens” – virtual restaurants that run delivery operations out of established restaurant kitchens.
Ghost kitchens gained popularity during the pandemic and amid a broader industry shift to delivery options.
In the case of The Meltdown, along with Burger Den, the kitchens are actually Denny’s restaurants. That means the gooey grilled cheeses and bold burgers are whipped up in between Grand Slams and other diner fare Denny’s is known for.
Applebee’s and IHOP also serve up ghost kitchen offerings with distinct virtual restaurants serving up wings, quesadillas and more grilled cheese sandwiches.
A Denny’s by Any Other Name
Denny’s (and the other legacy restaurants) all deliver these days. So why not just sell the same grilled cheese or burger via the established Denny’s menu?
The answer, of course, comes down to branding.
A restaurant like Denny’s has an established reputation – one that has served it well for decades. But that established brand makes it tricky to balance attracting new customers and preserving old ones. So, rather than risk adding a trendy (and more expensive) grilled cheese to the Denny’s menu, the restaurant created a whole new brand with the image and messaging to attract the kind of diners browsing DoorDash for their next eating experience.
The challenge for companies is to keep the branding distinct without customers feeling like they’re being tricked.
The websites for these ghost brands, for their part, make their connections to established restaurants explicit, but barely. Denny’s even retweeted the viral post that drew attention to the ghost kitchens.