Red Robin joins major chains in ghost kitchen tests

A burger from Red Robin sits on a table with fries in the background.

Written by James Shea

Red Robin joins other major restaurant brands that are testing the ghost kitchen concept. The company has established three virtual brands that focus on chicken and salads.

The Wing Dept serves a variety of wings and sides. Fresh Set offers salads, wraps and sandwiches, and Chicken Sammy’s has a selection of chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders.

The delivery-only brands are the latest in Red Robin’s expansion into off-premise dining. In 2018, Red Robin launched a partnership with Donatos Pizza at select Red Robin locations. As one element of this partnership, Red Robin has featured Donatos as a stand-alone delivery brand. Based on the success of the program, Red Robin will expand to an additional 120 locations throughout the remainder of 2021.

“We were pleased with the great feedback we received from guests when we tested the delivery-only brands,” Red Robin President Paul Murphy said. “We plan to continue to invest in these new virtual brands and will be introducing new menu items for each brand soon.”

The company did not mention the new ghost kitchens concepts during its fourth-quarter earnings call but issued a statement after several media outlets inquired. Like many restaurants, the company has had to adapt during the pandemic. During the earnings call, Murphy said off-premise dining has increased significantly from its 14 percent of sales prior to the pandemic. He did say that the company planned to work with third-party delivery companies.

“In 2021, we are introducing new third-party delivery partners and continuing to improve our technology platforms through website enhancements and a new Red Robin mobile app.,” he said. “These initiatives use cost-effective channels to engage on a direct and personalized level with our guests; streamline ordering, and improve operational execution; drive higher-order conversion, and increased guests frequency; and royalty participation, ultimately enabling us to increase sales.”

Several people have complained on social media about the Red Robin ghost kitchens. The food was labeled in the delivery app. with the name of the virtual brand but arrived at people’s house with Red Robin utensils.

Applebees, Outback Steakhouse and other major brands are also testing the virtual brand concept. Some analysts believe ghost kitchens could be a $1 trillion global business within a few years.

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