The next restaurant you order from on Uber Eats might not technically exist.
The ridesharing supremo is beefing up its food offering in the UK, following a successful trial of so-called 'virtual restaurants' in the US. There are already 1,600 of them worldwide, apparently, and Uber says it'll be adding another 400 in the UK by the end of the year.
So what exactly is a virtual restaurant? Thankfully it's nothing to do with VR – no one wants to eat with a headset on. It's actually an initiative to maximise efficiency in existing takeaways by using extra space in their kitchens to launch new menus.
For example, if your local chippy has more space than it needs, Uber Eats might facilitate a new burger 'restaurant' in that space. The restaurant won't really exist: you can't go there, you can only order from it in Uber Eats.
Early indications show this is a viable idea. According to the Telegraph, an Indian restaurant in Dagenham has sold twice as much of the new milkshakes and desserts Uber Eats has helped to implement at its premises as it has its own food. Similarly, a sushi restaurant has added Hawaiian favourite poke to its offering, which makes sense as they're both made from raw fish. There's potential for temporary seasonal menus to take up residence in existing kitchens too – perhaps KFC will start producing fried turkey in December.
Virtual restaurants could be particularly beneficial in small towns where there are only a few takeaways. It's unlikely anyone will start a whole new pasta place, but they might be able to tag onto the existing pizzeria, increasing the number of options available in the area. Similarly, more niche menus – vegan and free-from food, for instance – can't necessarily justify a whole outlet, but could definitely become a side offering at an existing eatery.
Virtual restaurants have already been piloted in the UK by Uber Eats competitor Deliveroo, which is being aggressively courted by both Uber and Amazon. It seems everyone wants to bring us food, and we're basically OK with that.