We’ve come a long way since Meals on Wheels, and in recent years, the business of on-demand dining has begun to impact the restaurant industry in a big way.
Chances are you’ve heard of virtual dining—or “ghost restaurants”—and you may even have used one yourself. Poke Cafe in Chicago is one of them, and Forage Kitchen in California is another. The virtual restaurant trend has risen in popularity, further entrenching itself into the hipster foodie scene with every passing year, and not just with customers. Restaurant owners are beginning to take note of the perks of virtual dining, too.
If you’re not sure exactly how a ghost restaurant works, it’s basically like this: a restaurant, or sometimes a parent organization, like Green Summit Group, sets up a kitchen and launches one or more brands, partnering with one of the popular external food ordering platforms like GrubHub or Uber Eats to deliver the food.
Customers love the service for obvious reasons: it’s convenient and on-demand; they can order directly from their phone; the price is right; and most menus consist of assorted and delivery-friendly dishes, making for quality meals that taste a whole lot better than what you’d get from the to-go menu at your typical brick-and-mortar restaurant.
One customer we spoke with said that she uses DoorDash for her own meals, as well as catering food for office meetings at her workplace in Walnut Creek, CA. “I love that I don’t have to interrupt my day to go pick up food.” The customer told us she uses the service for pretty much everything but fast food.
But what are the benefits of virtual dining that appeal to restaurant owners? Here are just a few advantages realized by ghost restaurants:
Even with these benefits, though, online restaurants are still restaurants, and they aren’t completely immune to the challenges inherent in the industry, like shifting customer preferences and expectations, staff turnover, and brand management. Beyond these industry hurdles, ghost restaurants face a few unique challenges of their own:
For the time being, though, ghost kitchens are on the rise, and the technology is improving with the demand. Research shows that 46% of mobile users are hopping on their phones at least once a month to order takeout or delivery, and the trend is not likely to decrease anytime soon.
Two other restaurant trends to watch this Fall include a response to “Instagram influence,” with an increased focus on interior design, as well as the rise of fast, casual food, which might bridge the gap between traditional restaurants and virtual restaurants, meeting the customer demand for convenient food that is also quality.
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