What You Need to Know About Using Commissary Kitchens
For food producers with limited resources, it can seem impossible to find a kitchen to rent that doesn’t completely destroy your limited margins.
With the explosion of food delivery services and the popularity of food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and casual dining in general, more and more food industry entrepreneurs are turning to shared-use kitchens.
These fully licensed commercial kitchens allow you to produce meals in a safe, professional-standard food production facility, without having to shell out for a brick-and-mortar kitchen of your own. A commissary kitchen offers many of the benefits that would come with having your own kitchen, without a lot of the associated overhead, paperwork, and hassle.
What is a Commissary Kitchen?
A commissary kitchen is a shared kitchen where space can be rented by the hour, or on a more permanent basis, for food storage, preparation, and cooking. Commissary kitchens are fully licensed commercial kitchens that comply with all relevant food safety standards and are regulated and inspected by the local health department.
Commissaries allow food business owners to benefit from a collaborative space in a number of ways, from having access to shared equipment to benefiting from economies of scale and splitting shared costs.
Because they do not have to cater directly to the public, commissary kitchens are often located outside of cities’ central business districts. This usually makes them more affordable to rent and gives suppliers easier access for deliveries.
There are numerous types of shared kitchens, from those that cater specifically to food trucks, to kitchen incubators that support growing businesses, to restaurants that make some extra cash by renting out their spare kitchen space.
Who Uses Commissary Kitchens?
Renting a portion of a commissary kitchen could be ideal if you run a food truck, pop-up restaurant, or outside catering business — or if you run a number of restaurants and could utilize a prep kitchen to act as a hub of production.
There is a rising trend for delivery-only restaurants, many of which use commissaries as ghost kitchens. These restaurants have no storefront and instead use delivery options to sell meals directly to consumers.
Seasonal food businesses also benefit from the flexible nature of commissary kitchens. Food truck operators or caterers who operate primarily based on seasonal demand may not want to — or be able to — pay for a kitchen year-round.
What to Consider When Using a Commissary Kitchen
The Cost vs. The Benefits
Although the rates may look expensive by the hour (typically between $15 and $30), there are a number of benefits bundled into the commissary kitchen package.
You don’t have the outlay on equipment, fridges, storage space, and all the other overheads associated with running your own kitchen. And you don’t have to worry about inspections and paperwork around commercial kitchen licensing and regulations.
When you pay a fixed fee, you have a better idea of your upfront costs rather than worrying about high utility bills or unexpected repairs. This can make it easier to forecast and have greater predictability in your business plan.
Another benefit of commissary kitchens comes from their collaborative nature. You have access to expensive equipment that you may not have been able to purchase on your own, and you can potentially drive ingredient costs down by partnering with other users to benefit from an economy of scale. By grouping orders together, you may be able to minimize delivery costs and take orders over vendors’ minimum threshold.
Licensing and Insurance
As a tenant in a commissary kitchen, although you are responsible for your own hygiene and food handling practices, you don’t have to deal with the kitchen’s food safety licensing and certification, as this will be covered by the kitchen operator as part of your rental fees. You avoid the headaches associated with the property, such as fire inspections, land use restrictions, FDA regulations, and USDA requirements. You must have your own liability insurance, but you don’t have the costs of insuring and securing the whole property and the equipment stored there.
One of the biggest benefits of a commissary kitchen for tenants is the flexibility it affords you. If you run a seasonal business or you are in the uncertain early stages of developing a concept, it’s the perfect place to test ideas and to use as a temporary home base until things are more secure, then you have the option to expand and move to a fixed kitchen space as you grow.
Many commissary kitchens offer remote access at all times, so you can come and go whenever you need to — which may be especially attractive for bakers who tend to work very early hours. New technologies like WiFi-enabled remote locks make 24/7 access for tenants even easier.
The flipside of this is that you must share the kitchen with other tenants, so the space you need may not always be available. Access will depend on the type of membership you have – whether you rent part of a shared space, or if you rent your own kitchen within a commissary.
Security and Storage
Although there is a certain level of trust among operators in a shared kitchen, there still may be some security risk. The good news is that security is built into the cost of the commissary space rental. Most facilities will have good external security systems with surveillance cameras and staff to help prevent theft or break-ins. You’ll want to make sure the facility you rent from has strong security procedures in place to mitigate risks.
To protect your inventory, most commissaries will offer secure locker storage and portable cages for ingredients that can easily be wheeled into the food prep area. However, consider cold storage: Refrigerators are often less secure, since a shared walk-in is the most efficient way to store cold items.
For additional peace of mind, software like xtraCHEF offers Inventory Management that can help you see what items you have on hand and what you’re running out of more quickly than you should. Even better? The tool applies historical purchase data to your inventory so you also have real-time insight into your COGS.
Is a Commissary Kitchen Right for Your Business?
The best way to decide if a commissary kitchen is the best option for your business is to carry out a thorough cost-benefit analysis, weighing the pros and cons of renting space at a commissary kitchen versus leasing your own kitchen.
But for some, the decision may not be based on financials. Would you benefit from the flexibility of a commissary kitchen, or do you need your own space? Does the communal aspect of a shared kitchen help or hurt your concept? Make a list of your priority needs in terms of space, storage, equipment, and shared facilities, and check to see if the kitchens you are considering offer the features you need. Then, come to a decision as to whether the expenses would make a commissary kitchen worthwhile.
xtraCHEF has a suite of features to help you track and compare operational costs and make accurate predictions using interactive reports. If you’re feeling daunted by the idea of creating a cost-benefit analysis, learn more about how xtraCHEF’s restaurant management software can help.
Sam Sinha is a freelance writer focusing on food and restaurant tech. After a decade as a chef in a variety of London kitchens, Sam moved to Hong Kong and now writes for food tech pioneers across the globe. You can find him at samsinha.com.