John Harris

Journalist & Author

Are dark kitchens the satanic mills of our era? | John Harris

Few of us realise how the food we order from the likes of Deliveroo gets to us. It’s time we saw the light about such businesses

They are known as “dark kitchens”: cramped boxes, usually plonked in city centres, in which cooks prepare meals that are ordered and sent out via food-delivery apps. Britain is reckoned to have at least 70, most of which are owned and run by the delivery giant Deliveroo under the brand name Deliveroo Editions. The food that comes out of them is sold in the name of established restaurants, and innocent customers might assume it somehow still comes from their high-street premises. But no: this is a new reality of “virtual branding”, in which all that sits behind this or that logo are the bare essentials – a couple of ovens, a handful of chefs and couriers frantically delivering what they cook.

A report last year by my Guardian colleague Sarah Butler focused on a dark kitchen site near Canary Wharf in London, and vividly evoked what went on there: “The boxes have no windows and many of the chefs work with the doors open … Working in the metal boxes is either hot or cold, depending on the weather and whether they are cooking or prepping. In one kitchen, there is only a small fan heater for cold days. Another houses a pizza oven that takes up more than a third of the space and makes it extremely hot.” Online ads for jobs in such places offer hourly wages of between £8.50 and £9, and roles best suited to people who are “reliable”, “hard working”, and have “two years’ experience in [a] fast paced kitchen”.

Light and dark have always been signifiers for the quality of work and what it can do to people’s psyches

Related: This is insecurity Britain. Labour and the Tories are racing to connect with it | Phillip Blond

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