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Ghost production: applying the Servuction model to establish a typology and propose a research agenda for on-demand restaurant food delivery

Mark Ashton (School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK)
Aarni Tuomi (Hospitality Business Competence Area, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki, Finland)
Peter Backman (Horizons FS Limited, London, UK)

Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights

ISSN: 2514-9792

Article publication date: 22 September 2022

Issue publication date: 1 December 2023




The rapid growth in volume and value of on-demand restaurant food delivery, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is causing a paradigm shift in the food service sector. However, there is a lack of hospitality management research into this emerging phenomenon. To address this gap, this paper defines and develops a novel conceptual model and typology and proposes a research agenda for ghost production in the context of food service.


This paper uses the Servuction model to explore, define and model the radical separation between food service production sites, points of sale and consumer interaction from the perspective of on-demand restaurant food delivery. A novel typology is developed and illustrated with eight industry examples from the UK and an accompanying cost benefit analysis. Future research priorities are identified.


In the hospitality literature, little attention has been paid to changes on-demand restaurant food delivery brings to production and business models of food service organisations, resulting in significant gaps between food service practice and theory. The knock-on effects to stakeholders include increased convenience for customers, uncertain employment status of riders and, for restaurants, striking a balance between capturing new markets and losing control of the customer. Additionally, for aggregators, there is a lack of profitability in existing models, despite holding the balance of power (and data).


The concept of “ghost production” and its associated typology is novel and offers a contribution to hospitality management literature by defining the term, scope and scale of this new phenomenon. Practical implications are proposed.



The work presented in this paper has been supported by funding from the Finnish Work Environment Fund, project id: 210336, project name: Algorithmic management and professional growth in platform economy.


Ashton, M., Tuomi, A. and Backman, P. (2023), "Ghost production: applying the Servuction model to establish a typology and propose a research agenda for on-demand restaurant food delivery", Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, Vol. 6 No. 5, pp. 1730-1754.



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