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Business

The startling reason people order delivery from McDonald's and Burger King

Clue: It's not really the beautiful efficiency of the apps.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
McDonald's logo in the sky

Delivering more than just food? 

Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Technology has made selling food so much easier.

Making food, too.

All you need is a building, some equipment, and a fine digital retail presence to connect with customers.

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Why, so-called ghost kitchens -- with a made-up brand name and food cooked in some old warehouse -- are, some say, becoming immensely popular. Though how immensely may be open to conjecture.

One recent development that may open a few eyes -- and mouths -- was Oomi Digital Kitchen in Dallas. Its owners believe that, for a ghost kitchen to be successful, it has be located in a high-traffic area.

Yes, even if people can't actually visit the restaurant, as there's no actual restaurant there. Just a kitchen.

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I've pondered this for quite a while. Would it really make a difference if I saw a fast-food brand name near my house? Would I be more inclined to order delivery from it? 

Perhaps, I concluded. Truly, I conclude "perhaps" about so many things that torture my mind.

But then I fell upon the latest knowledge and conjecture of the National Restaurant Association, published in Restaurant Business Online.

It seems that 30% of the association's members believe that ghost kitchen delivery will become a bigger thing in 2023. An equal 30% believe it'll actually decline.

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"How is that possible?" I hear you sniff. If you get your pricing right, your digital tools sharp, and your kitchen staff working with equally sharp speed, you'll do hearty business. You'll live at the edifying intersection between hunger and instant gratification.

Yet the restaurant operators lean on a fascinating piece of data -- around 70% of customers say they truly care if a delivery order comes from a restaurant they can actually frequent.

Say.

I used to say it was vital for me to clutch a news source made of paper every morning. I can't remember the last time this actually occurred. So naturally I'm skeptical of delivery orderers' claim.

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Yet perhaps there's something about it that makes psychological sense. What the likes of McDonald's and Burger King do very well is not be awful on a consistent basis. The vast majority of the time, they excel at being just good enough.

Customers trust that. Their hunger needs to be satiated instantly -- or as instantly as is humanly possible.

Every initial ghost kitchen delivery order is an experiment. For many, it also incites suspicion. Where is this thing coming from? Who made it? How can I trust that this won't taste poison me?

Yet everyone feels they know McDonald's, Burger King, and friends. I suspect that, because of their astonishing ubiquity, many customers feel that these established fast-food chains are somehow, in some twisted way, part of their community.

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I never said this was a good thing. I sense, though, that it's a real thing. If something -- or someone -- is part of your community, you'll want to visit and say hello. You might even want to chat. You'll be perfectly happy if they occasionally come to your house.

If something is coming from who knows where, it might feel a touch too alien.

Another little, fact-based nugget might also support this theory. 13% of all restaurants have allegedly stopped using third-party delivery services such as DoorDash. A mere 7% of quick-service restaurants have done the same.

The restaurant owners suggest that many of these restaurants are still offering delivery. They're merely creating their own delivery services.

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For the longest time, I used to order delivery from a local Chinese restaurant. It would always be one of two restaurant employees who'd come to my door with the order. They were excellent representatives of a business that was part of the community, a business to which one could go and eat. And the food was extremely consistent.

I never did go and eat there. I wonder, though, how much of an effect it had to know that I could.

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