The Rise of the Virtual Brand
Not too long ago, the term “Virtual Brand” was a mystery to most restaurant owners. Delivery-only menus and ghost kitchens (or dark kitchens) were out there, but a majority of people in the food industry had no idea what they were or how they worked.
So what is a virtual brand? Chances are you’ve ordered from one recently without even knowing it.
What exactly is a ‘Virtual Brand’ and why do they work?
Imagine this: you can offer a menu, complete with a restaurant brand and identity, but without the overhead cost of running an in-house dining space. Your menu reaches thousands of customers through an online delivery platform without having to pay a single penny on a street-facing venue or front of house staff.
The advantages to the business owner of running a virtual brand are clear: for start-ups, virtual brand restaurants are a great way to test the water while only initially investing in kitchen space. For established businesses, online-only can be a great, relatively risk-free way of trialling a new menu; or, in the case of running a virtual brand business alongside a traditional eat-in operation, can make for a highly efficient (and therefore highly profitable) use of an already existing kitchen, staff and supply of ingredients.
The nuts and bolts:
You’re going to need a kitchen, and some folk to do the cheffing. However, there is no need to hire wait staff or rent a premises with dining-space. Then, a wholly online menu needs to be created. Because they are delivery-only, these menus can be designed specifically to optimise quality and efficiency in smaller kitchens or to work alongside existing restaurant operations, with delivery-friendly packaging and cross-used ingredients to maximise space.
A third-party platform is often used to deliver these menus. They allow brands to run across multiple delivery apps and will also handle the payment for you. They’ll connect you to a delivery service who will come collect the order when it’s ready and zip it over to your hungry customer.
An extra bonus for the virtual brand owner is the way in which this business format allows for data capture. In the hustle and bustle of a busy dining room, it can be hard to gather and quantify the sort of information that an app can collect and analyse easily, allowing you to see, for example, patterns of ordering, and customer profiles. This sort of data is invaluable in terms of planning menus, advertising and launching new dishes.
As the number of virtual brand restaurants continues to grow, it is evident that the landscape of the restaurant world has shifted and continues to shift; and that, in this new reality, both virtual and ‘traditional’ restaurants will exist symbiotically for the foreseeable future.