With the growth of delivery apps has come a concurrent rise in “ghost kitchens”— restaurants with no physical presence outside of food delivery.
While some ghost kitchens are wholly independent, others coexist inside existing restaurants. Chuck E. Cheese sparked controversy recently after it was revealed that locations were operating ghost kitchens in their restaurants under the name “Pasqually’s Pizza.” In some cases, whole franchises have opened using ghost kitchens, such as the initial offerings from the MrBeast-owned MrBeast Burger.
Although these restaurants have found success, their existence can annoy or mislead customers who want a more “authentic” restaurant experience. Now, a user on TikTok has gone viral after sharing two restaurants she claims are actually ghost kitchens operating out of an IHOP.
In a video with over 2.5 million views, TikTok user Ghoulie (@ghouliegolightly) takes to the DoorDash app to call out two “restaurants.”
“Look at the graphics. It’s obvious,” she says of the restaurants. “Super Mega Dilla and Thrilled Cheese. Those are both IHOP. Both of these have the same address and it’s IHOP.”
Ghoulie is correct; both Super Mega Dilla and Thrilled Cheese are “virtual brands” operated by IHOP. The breakfast diner announced the move in May of last year as a partnership with virtual restaurant provider Nextbite.
But as TikTok commenters pointed out, IHOP is not alone in exploring virtual kitchen ventures.
“My favorite is ‘it’s just wings’ and it’s chilis haha,” wrote one user, referencing one of Chili’s virtual brands.
“IM A DASHER AND CAN CONFIRM. ‘Cosmic wings’ is run out of the local Applebees,” alleged another. This is also correct.
“The Burger Den being Dennys I can’t,” offered a third. Again, this is a virtual brand run out of Denny’s locations.
While some users don’t mind the ghost kitchen trend, others think it has gone too far.
“They’re BOTH in my ihop and like… why don’t i get paid for those orders too? like i’m working for THREE companies now,” explained a commenter.
“Because of this phenomenon I quite literally google every restaurant I come across on Uber eats,” claimed a second.
Update Jan 12, 4:11pm CT: In an email to Daily Dot, an IHOP spokesperson shared the following: “IHOP partners with Nextbite to offer guests delivery-only brands, which operate in more than 1300 locations across the US.”
The Daily Dot reached out to Ghoulie via Instagram direct message.
Update 8:40am CT, Jan. 14, 2023: In an Instagram direct message exchange with Daily Dot, Ghoulie elaborated on her issues with ghost kitchens.
“I think, in the case of, say, someone who runs a pop-up restaurant renting out some kitchen space so they can serve their food full-time without the expense of a food truck or storefront, that’s an awesome avenue to be available to them. However, as a quick browse through DoorDash seems to show, the majority of these virtual brands are a couple of corporations running 3-4 food joints out of a single restaurant,” she detailed.
“That raises a couple of questions to me: Is the staff being compensated for working, essentially, for multiple restaurants instead of the single one they got hired and are paid to work for?” she continued.
Ghoulie claimed the people in her comment section discussing their experiences working at these chains running these virtual brands seem to indicate that they “do not get additional tips or pay for this additional labor, and instead these online orders disrupt the flow of work they have set up to serve the customers they were hired to serve, making their primary job more difficult.”
“Another concern is, even if the folks running these virtual brands are providing the ingredients for the staff of this other restaurant to use, as some comments seem to indicate, what motivation do they have to invest in quality when they essentially have no real repercussions for providing sub-par food?” Ghoulie said.
She explained if a physical restaurant gets a reputation for “bad food,” that the word spreads and reviews pile up but that “this place barely even exists as a real entity.”
“If they get a bad rap for serving garbage, the brand can just disappear and pop back up under another name,” she continued. “That kind of complete lack of transparency, I believe, in a business model that encourages absolute minimum investment to generate maximize profits, leads to something that ultimately isn’t good for the community its customer base is drawing from.”