Uber Eats CEO Damien Drapp tells us about virtual restaurants

What do you know about restaurants without a storefront?
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Uber Eats GM Damien Drap
Uber Eats GM Damien Drap

Every Thursday evening you order something from your favourite takeaway. Time after time it hits the spot. The carbonara? Creamy and delicious. The octopus carpaccio? Perfection on a plate. So you think to yourself, perhaps I should pay this place a visit. But no matter how hard you look, you won’t find a storefront, you won’t find a physical location. It’s one of the thousands of virtual restaurants popping up around the world.

So what is a virtual restaurant? “A virtual restaurant is a restaurant that only exists in the application,” Uber Eats GM Damien Drap explains. “It doesn’t have a physical existence but you will find it in our application and it’s operating out of another existing kitchen.”

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It’s an unusual concept but one that Drap tells us has many ways of benefitting a restaurant. By using the vast amounts of data available to Uber Eats through customers’ searches, Drap can pinpoint which type of cuisine is missing from a certain area. Then he can sit down with a restaurant, pass on this information, and help the restaurant set up a virtual counterpart focusing on that cuisine. Using the kitchens they already have at hand they are able to hit a market segment that was previously passing them by.

In another example, Drap tells us of a “restaurant who had a very extensive breakfast menu but people only knew them for their business lunch. So they split out part of their menu into a restaurant that is breakfast centric and now their sales have already surpassed the sales of the original brand, just because that’s what people were looking for. In an office environment more and more people have breakfast at their desk through an app”.

It’s a combination of data and gastronomic expertise coming together to meet consumer demand. And in a city like Dubai, where “more than 75% of the population order at least once a week”, it makes sense to listen to that demand.

Drap says that Uber Eats is even able to use data from other countries to help launch virtual restaurants in the UAE. He says: “If we see a successful concept in country A and see it will be successful in country B, then it can come to country B without having to invest in a kitchen or brand marketing or anything. It just has to exist in our app.

“We’re lucky enough to have data from around the world. We use data to recognise trends very early on. Something that is successful in Latin America and Australia will most likely be successful in the Middle East or in Europe.”

With the highest percentage of virtual restaurants located in the UAE, it looks like a phenomenon that’s here to stay.

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