Business Lessons Worth Learning from Ghost Restaurants

ghost business


Though the relatively new concept of “ghosting,” or unceremoniously and without warning disappearing from the life of a friend or potential love interest, has a decidedly negative connotation, the idea of ghost businesses comes across as nothing short of ingenious. An article earlier this year in Crains New York Business detailed the way that some third party services including GrubHub and Seamless allowed for a single restaurant to create the appearance of being several individual restaurants.

In a nutshell, one company could use a single kitchen or food service provider and package their various menus as originating from individual restaurants, complete with different menus, recipes and business names. Which begs the question: what, if anything can other businesses learn from this trend? A lot actually.

Here are some business lessons we learned from ghost restaurants:


1. Try Before You Brand: As any serial entrepreneur or branding expert knows, not all business names, slogans and taglines are created equal. In fact, some major corporations or consumer packaged goods companies spend millions on developing, creating, and launching a new product (New Coke, we’re looking at you) only to find it fail miserably.
Take a page from a ghost restaurant’s playbook (or menu) and try out several names before settling on just one. The same goes for logos, colors and taglines. Try out your new company name on your email signature and see which, if any your clients or colleagues react to. Better yet, create a survey asking for input and ask people to help you to decide which one of your phantom company names is the perfect fit for your company.


2. Be Bland…Or Spicy: When choosing how to brand your business it can be difficult to know the words to use and language to choose. If your corporate verbiage is too difficult to understand or the words used are hard pronounce, you might risk alienating some of your desired demographic; then again, if you oversimplify things, there’s a distinct chance that your business might not appear sophisticated enough to compete with the big guys. Or, maybe you’re having a hard time deciding if your products sound a bit too exotic or tame. In the same way that some of these so-called ghost restaurants produce several menus, you can set up two virtual entities for your company and similar websites with language that differs based on demographic or user input. It’s an easy way to make sure that all of your customers get exactly what they want.


3. Location. Location. Location: One of the more interesting aspects of the ghost restaurants is the fact that they exclusively cater to very specific areas. In the case of the single kitchen with eight online only brands, the neighborhoods served were midtown Manhattan and Williamsburg– a pretty limited demographic.

If you’re concerned about which neighborhoods to cater to in your own business, consider renting a virtual space; this can be anything from a coworking space to even a post office box in different parts of town. Trying to cater to a posher demographic? Set up a summer virtual headquarters (or address) in the Hamptons. Hoping to attract new members in the Community? Try sharing an address in Deal during the warmer months. Are you aiming for a hipster demographic? Hang your virtual hat at a coworking space in DUMBO (hint, hint).


4. Be Your Own Competitor: Did you ever pitch a new business only to lose it to your greatest business nemesis? Well, what if your nemesis was actually your brand packaged under a different name? Cosmetics companies do this all the time, offering a pricey product under their prestige label and then selling the identical mascara or lip-gloss in cheaper packaging at the drugstore.

If you offer more than one type of business service, consider splitting your offerings into two unique business names and outlets. In this way, not only will you potentially increase the attention to one or the other of your companies, if you lose a potential account based on a specific angle, you can try pitching for the same business from your ghost company.

A Word to the Wise: While it’s fun to come up with ways to create new business opportunities, it’s important to create transparency as well. After all, you don’t want potential clients or partners thinking that you’re too sketchy to work with. Use these ideas as inspiration for ways to expand your product delivery methods or reach, but always make sure to identify yourself and your parent brand someplace on your collateral materials.

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