Faculty & Research -Cultivating initial trust in ghost kitchens: A mixed-methods investigation of antecedents and consequences

Cultivating initial trust in ghost kitchens: A mixed-methods investigation of antecedents and consequences

Our study explores the digital shift in the hospitality sector, focusing on ghost kitchens—restaurants without physical dining, serving exclusively through delivery apps. We investigate factors that fosters initial trust among customers in these novel business models. We focus on food-related aspects like food safety, value, and authenticity. Through a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, we demonstrate how food-related factors influence customer repurchase intention and advocacy intentions. This investigation offers crucial insights for ghost kitchen operators on enhancing customer engagement and trust. Join us in exploring the dynamics of trust in the burgeoning ghost kitchen market.

Introduction to Digital Transformation in Hospitality

The hospitality industry has undergone a significant transformation due to digital advancements. Ghost kitchens, also known as virtual or dark kitchens, have emerged as innovative business models reshaping the restaurant sector. These establishments operate without dine-in facilities, relying on delivery apps to connect with customers. This shift towards minimalistic operations allows for reduced capital and operational costs, alongside a fewer staff structure.

Initial trust is pivotal in fostering a lasting relationship between customers and ghost kitchens, emphasizing the importance of quality and authenticity.

Exploring Initial Trust towards Ghost Kitchens using Mixed-Method

Our research adopted a sequential mixed methods approach. Starting with a quantitative survey and structural equation modeling, we moved to qualitative semi-structured interviews for deeper insights. The findings highlight the importance of food-related factors, except for menu variety, in fostering initial trust. Interestingly, risk attitude was the only factor found to moderate the relationship between initial trust and repurchase intentions. Metainferences revealed that menu variety is not a key factor influencing customer evaluation of ghost kitchens. They are concerned about the professionalism, concern for food quality, and need for convenience and efficiency as key reasons for the non-significant effect of menu variety in initial trust. Similarly, they did not find such business models significantly impact environmental objectives even among those who recognized to have high environmental identity.

Key Insights and Implications

The study findings reveal that food-related factors, as key signals, play significant roles in customer evaluations. Additionally, the impact of ghost kitchens on environmental objectives was not significant, even among those highly identifying with environmental concerns. These insights are invaluable for ghost kitchen operators, suggesting a cautious approach when leveraging environmental claims and the need to consider menu strategies carefully.

Conclusion: Navigating the Future

As ghost kitchens continue to evolve, understanding and fostering initial customer trust is paramount. Operators must navigate the challenges of a digital-first approach with strategic focus on quality, convenience, and clear communication of value propositions. This research provides a roadmap for enhancing customer engagement and building a sustainable model in the rapidly changing landscape of the hospitality industry.


Mixed method design was used. A quantitative survey was carried out among ghost kitchen customers. Specifically, those who started ordering from ghost kitchens were recruited to participate in the survey questionnaire. Following this, a structural equation modeling was used to analysis the relationships between food-related factors and initial trust, and initial trust and customer outcomes of repurchase intentions and advocacy intentions. Following the quantitative study, a qualitative study was carried out for in-depth insights into how customers evaluate food-related factors in their initial trust formation toward ghost kitchens.

Applications and beneficiaries

For ghost kitchen operations and marketers, the findings highlight the importance of building initial trust through food safety, economic value, personalization, and food authenticity, rather than menu variety. Ghost kitchen operators must focus on these elements to cultivate customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth. Additionally, while environmental concerns and risk attitudes play roles in customer decision-making, they do not influence the fundamental need for quality and value in the context for ghost kitchens. Operators are advised to prioritize operational excellence and authenticity in their offerings to navigate the challenges and leverage the opportunities presented by the digital transformation in hospitality sector.

Reference to the research

Jiang, Y., Balaji, M. S., & Lyu, C. (2024). Cultivating initial trust in ghost kitchens: A mixed-methods investigation of antecedents and consequences. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 119, 103727.

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