29 March 2023

Canberra has an epidemic of 'ghost kitchens' - but are they legal?

| James Coleman
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Kebab meat in a takeaway shop

Your food may not be coming from where you think. Photo: File.

There are no contact details. Sometimes there is no address, or when you look it up on Google Maps, it’s under a different name. Often, there are very stock-like images of the food.

They’re called ‘ghost kitchens’ – and yes, they do exist in Canberra.

A ghost kitchen (or ‘delivery-only kitchen’) is one kitchen that operates multiple restaurants, all under different names, normally through delivery apps like Menulog, Uber Eats and DoorDash.

A customer orders food through the app, assuming it will be coming from a certain kitchen in a certain place, but it might in fact be coming from elsewhere.

It’s as if McDonald’s added several restaurants to Uber Eats under the guises of ‘Maccas’, ‘Hit and Miss Fries’ and ‘The Ice Cream Machine is Broken’, but in reality, everything is still coming from McDonald’s.

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The concept is relatively new around the world but is thought to have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when restaurants were forced to rely on delivery apps to survive lockdowns and social-distancing restrictions.

Take Between 2 Buns for example. This burger outlet is listed as having a store in the Homeworld shopping centre in Greenway according to Uber Eats and another presence in Emu Bank in Belconnen on Menulog.

But it shares both name and logo with a Melbourne-based burger company. And according to the official Between 2 Buns website, there are three locations, but none in Canberra. Even the menus are different.

So, where is your Canberra burger really coming from?

A Canberra burger company's Uber Eats listing

Details are scarce on this Canberra burger company’s Uber Eats listing. Photo: Screenshot.

ACT Health says they are “aware” of ghost kitchens in Canberra, and why they might exist, but stops short of calling them illegal.

“These arrangements use online delivery platforms aiming to increase turnover, often avoiding higher overheads associated with premium commercial locations,” a spokesperson told Region.

In other words, restaurants can tap into the demand in one area without necessarily having to open up a physical space there.

However, this can have negative flow-on implications for local businesses in the area that are paying rent and other overhead costs but having to compete with rivals that aren’t.

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So, while it might appear to be a bit of a dodgy business practice, most importantly, the ACT Health spokesperson said there should be no implications for the safety of your food.

“ACT Food businesses, including ‘delivery only’ commercial kitchens, are required to be registered and meet requirements set out under the Food Act 2001 (ACT) and the Food Standards Code,” the spokesperson said.

“Environmental Health Officers from ACT Health are out and about most days undertaking routine food safety inspections as well as in response to serious complaints.”

If you’re ever unsure about food safety at a food-related business, including that sourced through an online delivery platform, you can make a complaint to ACT Health via phone on 02 5124 9700 or email hps@act.gov.au.

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We shop online at stores with no physical presence. What is the difference?

The ACT government should put a stop to this. It is false and misleading advertising to state that food is coming from a particular restaurant (and location), if it is not actually coming from that restaurant and location.

Now that is a race to the bottom. If I was a brand in the food industry I’d want to be sure those tasked with delivering my product had an interest in ensuring it’s quality. But when it comes to standardising things like a sandwich, you’re in the race to the bottom yourself. Don’t me lazy, just buy the ingredients and make it at home.

Yeah good luck making a complaint to health. On my one and only visit to a particular venue I observed a kitchen hand with long hair and no hair net hanging their hair in a plate of food while doing the prep. When they had completed what they were doing they reached between the cheeks for a scratch before turning to the next plate and arranging the salad with bare hands. When I made a complaint to health the response was not much more than a “what do you want us to do about it”

Gregg Heldon12:41 pm 02 Apr 23

I have never used a food delivery app before. This is just another reason not too, in my mind.

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