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The Virtual Future of Restaurants

What the rise of ghost kitchens and virtual brands means for restaurant owners, workers, and consumers

Guy Fieri’s Restaurant Reboot
A spread from Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Kitchen, a virtual brand from the celeb chef
Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Over the past year, Guy Fieri, George Lopez, Mariah Carey, Pauly D, Mario Lopez, and Youtube star MrBeast opened hundreds of restaurant businesses simultaneously. Leaning into the popularity of delivery apps and the excess capacity of restaurant kitchens around the country, they all launched virtual brands — delivery-only chains that local restaurants sign up to distribute. They’re entirely designed for the app economy, and are one of a few, similar trends that are shaking up the future of the food delivery business.

Celeb-backed chains garner a lot of attention, but virtual chains are everywhere. National restaurant chains — Chili’s, Chuck E. Cheese, Applebee’s, for example — have their own. So do much smaller restaurant groups. Mom and pops around America are signing up as distribution points but also creating spinoff concepts of their own.

Meanwhile, restaurants continue to experiment with ghost kitchens — off-premise production spaces with no visible storefront designed to streamline a restaurant’s delivery business.

These new models could provide new revenue opportunities for struggling restaurateurs. But what does it mean for consumers who are increasingly disconnected from where their food is coming from? And what does it mean for workers making five menus out of the same kitchen?

Listen to episode four, the final installment in this Land of the Giants miniseries, to hear about the growth of virtual brands and ghost kitchens and how investors, restaurant owners, and the apps themselves are getting involved and what these new versions of “restaurants” mean for consumers.

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