Delivery-only ghost restaurants, also known as dark kitchens, have been established in major US cities for years, but now the online trend is taking off in Asia, especially in China.

As reported by Nikkei Asian Review, the online food delivery market in Asia is estimated to be worth about $53bn, with China accounting for $37bn of the total.

That means Asia is responsible for more than half of all global demand and this is expected to expand further, as property consultants Cushman-Wakefield has forecast that the growth of conventional restaurant dining will fall to 7.5% over the decade from 2016 to 2026.

Chinese consumers are at the forefront of embracing the ghost restaurant trend and research firm NPD Group has calculated that almost two-thirds (63%) of Chinese people use websites and apps for food delivery, compared with 36% in Japan and just 27% in South Korea.

Buoyant demand in China has enabled Beijing-based Panda Selected to open at least 103 shared kitchens in just three years and its CEO, Li Haipeng, claims the streamlined operation generates an average profit margin of 20% compared with 10% for traditional restaurants.

“Shared kitchens have boomed in China because Chinese families are used to food delivery,” Li said. “As long as China’s desire for food delivery continues, the demand for shared kitchens will only grow,” he added.

The consumer trend is also attracting the attention of international players and the South China Morning Post recently reported that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been looking into bringing his Los Angeles-based CloudKitchen venture to China.

Meanwhile, Uber Eats announced in October that it was forming a partnership with Indian chain Cafe Coffee Day to launch a network of delivery-only virtual restaurants.

And in Japan, startup Sentoen plans to open co-cooking space Kitchen Base next month in Tokyo's Meguro district, where four independent kitchens will operate eight delivery-only restaurants.

“Initial investment costs will be below 500,000 yen, whereas if you tried to open up an actual store, it would cost at least 10 million yen,” said Daisuke Yamaguchi, CEO of Sentoen.

Sourced from Nikkei Asian Review, South China Morning Post, Livemint; additional content by WARC staff