Craving something, but UberEats doesn’t list it in your vicinity? The company has a novel way to tackle that issue.
Uber is now serving dishes from “virtual restaurants,” a relatively new concept in the food delivery industry that allows you to order a meal from a restaurant that doesn’t have a full-fledged store presence.
The idea is that a sandwich cafe for example, could theoretically also serve salads, with relatively no change to the ingredients in its store. So on UberEats, it could become a virtual salad place, while staying a sandwich cafe in real life.
UberEats thinks the virtual restaurant concept could be used to fill in “trend gaps” in places where there is demand for a certain type of dish, but a lack of supply.
UberEats has already started work on the idea. In Chicago, Poke Cafe is a virtual restaurant serving Hawaiian poke bowls.
But customers don’t know that Poke Cafe’s food actually comes from Rice Cafe, a sushi restaurant. Poke Cafe is already serving up about 100 orders a week, which translates to $2,000 in sales, reports Restaurant Hospitality.
“We can work with existing restaurant partners to create delivery-only menus. [They would] appear as entirely new restaurants on the UberEats app,” Ambika Krishnamachar, UberEats product manager told Mashable.
Competitors like DoorDash and Grubhub in the U.S. are already serving dishes from “ghost” restaurants.
Earlier this year, Grubhub invested $1 million in Green Summit Group, a startup which has launched nine virtual restaurants from just one single kitchen. All the restaurants appear as separate listings on Grubhub.
Yet the term itself is still relatively unknown to many. UberEats throwing its weight behind virtual restaurants could change that.
Krishnamachar tells us that at this point, the concept of virtual restaurants is still “fairly experimental.”
“We’re still trying to understand what the demand gaps are, [it’s still] fairly experimental at this point,” she says.
An UberEats spokesperson told us that the company was experimenting with virtual restaurants “mostly in the U.S.”, though they were “looking to launch more experiments outside of the U.S. next year.”
Uber’s food delivery platform also rolled out several new app features on Thursday.
Customers will now receive “personalised” menu recommendations for every restaurant. So instead of scrolling through an entire menu, the app floats what it thinks your favourite dish options will be up to the top of the page.
The customisation is based on what UberEats calls a “taste profile.”
The taste profile learns your preferences based on factors like your previous orders and what restaurants you’ve browsed through — so clearly the more time you spend on UberEats, the more your profile will be customised for you.
UberEats, which has been investing heavily in AI, told Mashable that it has 10 people on the machine learning team powering taste profiles.
The app will also see the introduction of restaurant ratings. You’ll be able to rate not only each restaurant, but each individual dish.
As UberEats moves to becoming more personalised, it looks like other platforms might have some catching up to do.