Virtual restaurant

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A virtual restaurant in Columbus, Ohio in 2020 that specializes in online deliveries via Uber Eats and other similar services. Note its warehouse-like appearance that is not typical of a traditional restaurant.

A virtual restaurant (also known as a ghost restaurant) is a food service business that serves customers exclusively by delivery and pick up based on phone and online ordering.[1] It is a separate food vendor entity that operates out of an existing restaurant's kitchen.[2][3][4] By not having a full-service restaurant premise with a storefront and dining room, virtual restaurants can economize by occupying cheaper real estate.[5][6] This is in contrast to a ghost kitchen which is a co-working concept for meal preparation with no retail presence that a restaurant/brand or multiple restaurants can buy into.[2][7][8]


Virtual restaurants gained significant cultural and economic currency during the global pandemic of 2020, when many restaurants were either completely idled due to restrictions on public dining, or curtailed significantly as very low numbers of patrons were permitted to be served on-premises even as the situation recovered. At the same time, demand for home delivery of food expanded as people were required to stay at home.

The virtual restaurant concept (along with ghost kitchens) enabled restaurants to generate more business, and cover their labor/fixed overhead costs, by marketing and delivering food of more diverse types than could be offered by one traditional physical storefront. By offering menu items that could be made using many of the same existing ingredients already in the kitchen, restaurants could actually appear to be offering several different styles of cuisine and appeal to increased numbers of customers. A kitchen crew could then be more effectively employed to cook multiple menus rather than only a single physical restaurant at low capacity. The concept was also enabled by the growing centralization of food ordering online and through apps, making it possible for a restaurant to enter the market more easily, offer new menus and choices quickly and at a low cost.

Virtual restaurants are set up within existing restaurants, allowing businesses to cut costs by sharing space.[7] Virtual restaurants also save money by avoiding dine-in service through reliance on delivery service. Virtual restaurants rely on their own delivery drivers or third-party delivery apps such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates and DoorDash to deliver food to customers. However, some companies also incorporate their own delivery system into the business model.[2][3][9]

A typical virtual restaurant location is able to accommodate the preparation of several different types of cuisines.[10][11] The strategy of having multiple brands and cuisines can target a broader range of customers. Food can be prepared by specialty chefs or any range of cooks. Virtual restaurants are intended for people looking for culinary foods and convenience, often locally or within close proximity to them.[12]

Virtual restaurants have become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the increase in social distancing and work-from-home policies.[7] Uber Eats has helped launch over 4,000 virtual restaurants around the world.[2][8]


Some examples of virtual restaurants include Pasqually's Pizza & Wings which operates out of Chuck E. Cheese, Wing Squad which operates out of Buca di Beppo, Neighborhood Wings which operates out of Applebee's, It's Just Wings which operates out of Chili's, and The Wing Experience and The Burger Experience which operate out of Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill.[13][14][15]

In 2020, rapper Tyga partnered with Robert Earl and Virtual Dining Concepts to launch a series of virtual restaurants called Tyga Bites which is delivered only through Grubhub and operates out of existing restaurants' kitchens.[16][17]


Ghost restaurants have been criticized for their unpleasant working conditions and cramped, windowless kitchen spaces.[18] Several 2015 news articles found some "ghost restaurants" operated as unregulated, unlicensed standalone entities[19] or as "fronts" for restaurants that might or might not have health code violations.[20]

In the United Kingdom, restaurant operators The Restaurant Group and Casual Dining Group were criticised over a lack of transparency regarding virtual restaurant brands. The companies were found to be operating several virtual brands which sold similar or identical food to their more popular high-street brands.[21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shieber, Jonathan (November 2018). "The next big restaurant chain may not own any kitchens". Tech Cruch. Verizon Media. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Isaac, Mike; Yaffe-Bellany, David (2019-08-14). "The Rise of the Virtual Restaurant". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  3. ^ a b "Wing Squad Introduces Delivery Only Restaurant Concept". EatSeattle. 2020-02-06. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  4. ^ "Chuck E. Cheese is Serious About Pasqually's Pizza & Wings". QSR magazine. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  5. ^ Holmes, Mona (May 23, 2018). "Here's Why a Lot of Delivery Food Isn't Coming From Actual Restaurants The incubators are like WeWork for the restaurant industry". Eater Los Angeles. Vox Media. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  6. ^ Chamlee, Virginia (September 30, 2016). "Are Virtual Restaurants Dining's Next Hot Trend?". Eater.
  7. ^ a b c "'Ghost' kitchens scare up business as restaurants grapple with social-distancing impact". 2020-05-06. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  8. ^ a b Olson, Alexandra. "The rise of 'ghost kitchens': Here's what the online food ordering boom has produced". USA Today. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  9. ^ "Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl builds virtual restaurant empire of delivery-only brands". Restaurant Hospitality. 2020-01-31. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  10. ^ Turow Paul, Eve (March 24, 2017). "That Restaurant On Seamless Might Not Actually Exist". Forbes. if you have a 6,000 square foot kitchen you can make very high-quality food and have many different styles of cuisine coming from the same kitchen.
  11. ^ Channick, Robert (March 27, 2017). "9 restaurants, 1 kitchen, no dining room". Tribune Publishing Company. Butcher Block, Milk Money and Leafage share the same address, chefs and owner.
  12. ^ Chamlee, Virginia (2016-09-30). "Are Virtual Restaurants Dining's Next Hot Trend?". Eater. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  13. ^ Pomranz, Mike (May 19, 2020). "Applebee's Side Hustle Restaurant Appears on Delivery Apps as 'Neighborhood Wings'".
  14. ^ Klein, Danny (June 1, 2020). "Chili's Owner Launches Virtual Wings Concept".
  15. ^ "Smokey Bones to Open 122 New Virtual Restaurants". August 4, 2020.
  16. ^ Cowen, Trace William (July 29, 2020). "Tyga Launches Delivery of Oven-Baked Chicken Bites With New Grubhub Collab".
  17. ^ Jennings, Lisa (July 29, 2020). "Robert Earl launches Tyga Bites, first in a series of celebrity-fueled virtual restaurant brands".
  18. ^ Harris, John (2018-10-09). "Are dark kitchens the satanic mills of our era?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  19. ^ Thompson, Elise Thompson (28 July 2015). "Have You Missed Starry Kitchen's Balls? Us Too. Uber Eats is Here to Save Us All!". The LA Beat. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  20. ^ Glorioso, Chris; Givens, Ann; Stulberger, Evan (November 11, 2015). "Restaurants Use False Identities on Food Delivery Websites". NBC News. New York.
  21. ^ "Why Are Chain Restaurants Using Different Names on Delivery Apps?". Vice. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  22. ^ Beardsworth, Luke (2019-06-28). "Restaurants accused of lacking transparency over 'virtual brands'". LancsLive. Retrieved 2021-02-20.