Following shops that only exist online, virtual restaurants are now emerging too. These places are not open for customers to go and eat, but they can order for home delivery via services such as Deliveroo and Takeaway.com. Niche players still, they are increasingly appearing in the Benelux.
A handful of new virtual restaurants emerge every month
In large cities like Paris and London, they have been around for some time: invisible 'virtual restaurants' that only cook for meal delivery services. There is no dining room, no front door and no furniture: just a kitchen, sometimes at someone's home. They are usually hyper-specialised and look for culinary niches: you will only find authentic dumplings or ramen soup, for example, often at the request of the meal delivery companies themselves. They use their data to spot what is in demand locally or what is missed at a certain location, and then look for a kitchen.
Similar 'virtual brands' already exist in Belgium, as Deliveroo and Uber Eats told local newspaper De Tijd. Deliveroo Belgium has "been working on it for six months” and offers 18 virtual brands on its ordering platform. Uber Eats has five brands in Belgium, but claims to have over 500 worldwide. Deliveroo thinks the potential is enormous, "because the wider the choice you offer people, the more they order and the more often as well", and wants to add up to four new virtual brands per month to the platform in Belgium.
Japanese restaurants making Hawaiian poké bowls
The virtual brands can be spin-offs of existing restaurants: the dishes are prepared in the same kitchen, but presented to the consumer with their own 'branding'. This practice is particularly stimulated by the meal delivery services, because "it is a win-win situation for restaurants and consumers", says European Uber Eats spokesman Daniel Byrne: "The start-up costs of a virtual brand are minimal, you can test and experiment a lot. Restaurants increase their turnover and work more efficiently with minimal costs. And consumers get a wider choice."
"We can offer existing restaurants with a similar cuisine to add a virtual brand. For example, a sushi restaurant can also make poké bowls", Deliveroo says. The fact that consumers do not know whether their typical Hawaiian dish comes from a Japanese restaurant, does not seem to be an objection to the platform holders. France already has serial entrepreneurs for virtual restaurant chains: the start-up Taster launches virtual brands and uses them to raise large sums of money. The company chooses strategic locations in large cities, sets up a kitchen with chefs and is ready to go.