The virtual restaurants of the future
The last couple of years have seen a massive trend emerge for fast food delivery. Spearheaded by competitors Uber Eats, Just Eat and Deliveroo among others, the growing sector has commanded the headlines as it continues to raise concerns over the gig economy and insatiable customer demand for choice and speed.
The latest move for dominance has come from Uber Eats which has announced that it is to open 400 ‘virtual’ restaurants in the UK before the year is out. Whilst it might sound like virtual restaurants are a thing from a sci-fi novel from the future, they’ve actually already started popping up across the globe – you may have even ordered from one before but just not known it!
A virtual restaurant, like those that Uber Eats plans to launch, use existing restaurant or takeaway kitchens, making the most of under-utilised space and expanding in-app choice. This means that you could be ordering a pizza from, what appears to be an Italian restaurant listed exclusively on Uber Eats, but in reality the restaurant doesn’t exist and your food has actually been prepared in an already existing Chinese restaurant.
Uber Eats hopes that the move will strengthen its market power and customer offering. The company’s US head of virtual restaurants Cathy Zhou commented: “The opportunity is really huge just given the early signals we've seen from the restaurants that we've already worked with. We launched virtual restaurants in January 2017 starting in Chicago, and today we already see over 1,600 virtual restaurants globally.”
And the method has already been proven in the UK when, earlier this year, Indian restaurant Balti Cottage located in Dagenham started to sell desserts and shakes – a venture that now achieves 200% of the turnover of the original Indian restaurant.
Virtual restaurant developers believe that, providing exclusive menus from virtual outlets gives greater choice and could be enhanced by offering seasonal menus, among other strategies.
The idea certainly makes sense for companies such as Uber Eats who require a growing pool of restaurants, and as commercial restaurant space becomes harder and harder to find, it could too work for restaurateurs who can double their customers without having to increase floor space.
UK manager of Uber Eats, Toussaint Wattine, said: “We heard there was an appetite from restaurants to grow their business. Starting with our experience in the US, we have showed how you can build up menus using existing infrastructure.”