What acts like a restaurant, but has no parking lot, no seating, no need for reservations, and you can enjoy the menu from the comfort of home? It’s the virtual, or shall we say, “ghost” restaurant.
Meal deliveries have become the norm of today’s food landscape. Delivery diners have come to expect the availability of their favorite restaurant’s food, but what we are beginning to see are delivery options that are not on the menu at physical locations—because there is no physical location. Virtual restaurants, or restaurants which only have digital customer interaction, are emerging as a hot trend heading into 2019.
The rise of at-home entertainment has contributed to the creation of a larger market for food options outside of restaurants. The use of delivery apps has helped to grow this industry, which a Morgan Stanley survey predicts will comprise 11% of the total restaurant market by 2022.
Uber Eats is one of the biggest players in the virtual restaurant market, with more than 1,000 of its partnered restaurants having no physical storefront. Uber Eats’ method involves approaching restaurants with the idea of creating a “side restaurant” using the facilities the restaurant already has. Uber Eats relies on its customer database and search patterns to find what customers are searching for but can’t get in a given area to help tailor the new ghost restaurant’s menu. The restaurant facilitates these new online-only meals and Uber Eats delivers it to hungry customers.
Kitchen United is a company that helps restaurants enter the digital sphere. The company offers industrial kitchen space in converted warehouses, expert advice from industry professionals, and aggregate data. Kitchen United has secured funding from Google’s venture capital arm and plans to expand to new markets, including Denver, New York, and Phoenix, by the end of 2019.
Virtual kitchens are shaking up the way we interact with food, even on college campuses. Thanks to New York start-up Good Uncle, college students have another option besides the cafeteria meal plan. The company is a mix between a subscription-based meal service and a food delivery service. Good Uncle specifically targets and delivers to college campuses accessed through the proprietary app. Regional kitchens prepare the gourmet meals; they are then assembled in campus-specific kitchens, and, finally, cooked in vans specially designed to finish the meals. The unique business model allows the company to cut down on overhead costs such as labor and kitchen space.
Food delivery apps have caused dramatic changes in food. Brick and mortar restaurants will still maintain a large swath of the market share, but virtual restaurants are giving restaurants the opportunity to expand menu offerings and reel in new customers.