Why virtual restaurants can’t be an afterthought | Franchise News

Remember when Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings angered some customers after they discovered the virtual brand was actually Chuck E. Cheese in disguise? Applebee was also criticized for the Neighborhood Wings menu he rolled out on Grubhub, but that reaction is so 2020.

A mode of menu and brand innovation that gained traction during the coronavirus pandemic has since become big business for restaurants and companies creating and licensing concepts that have no physical counterparts.

“I think it’s a really interesting time right now because people are getting really comfortable and used to ordering from brands that only exist online,” said Alex Canter, CEO of the platform. -form of virtual restaurant brand Nextbite, speaking on a panel at the 2022 Food Conference on Demand. Delivery-only menus are no longer seen as “misleading or confusing” as they have become commonplace and the customer experience has improved, he continued.

Consumers “care less that it’s not brick and mortar,” Canter said, but that doesn’t mean restaurants should just redesign the menu and put it online under a different name.

Digital restaurant brands require major marketing punch to build and maintain a base customer base, said Robert Earl, co-founder of Virtual Dining Concepts. That’s why VDC has chosen to tie many of its brands to celebrities such as singer Mariah Carey and YouTube personality MrBeast. Partnerships help create “famous and successful” intellectual property assets, Earl said, and then VDC brings its restaurant-operating prowess.

Related: Is there real money in virtual restaurants?

“The reason behind it is the cost of marketing,” he said. “Having these celebrities with huge reach keeps consumers in the know about our brands.”

“It’s deceptively complicated, the amount of investment it takes to bring these concepts to market,” said Canter, who noted that he sees many big chains and franchises trying to launch their own virtual concepts but failing. to gain traction in crowded third-party markets. Nextbite helps build and roll out delivery-only brands, recently working with IHOP on the launch of its Thrilled Cheese and Super Mega Dilla, which IHOP franchisees are testing in approximately 50 restaurants.

Aaron Noveshen, CEO of fast-casual concept Starbird, and founder and president of restaurant consultancy The Culinary Edge, warned of what he called “sound marks” and said restaurants must ultimately be able to run the food. Product consistency and quality can suffer when a virtual brand is added to an existing restaurant’s operations, an increasingly common approach.

Restaurant owners must perform in the real world for a virtual brand to succeed, panelists said at the Food On Demand conference. From left to right, Nextbite’s Alex Canter, Starbird’s Aaron Noveshen and C3’s Joey Simons.

Noveshen, which is launching a franchise program for Starbird and also runs virtual brands from existing locations, said it takes a “train the trainer” approach and relies heavily on training videos to help operators to integrate new brands into the kitchen.

Joey Simons, senior vice president of operations for food technology platform C3, said the company will go so far as to license one of its digital restaurant brands – its portfolio includes Umami Burger and Krispy Rice – if there are major issues with product quality. “It’s amazing how badly you can ruin a burger,” he joked, adding that C3 will aim to retrain staff first before resorting to other measures.

Staffing, Earl noted, should be a major consideration for restaurateurs considering additional revenue through delivery-only menus. “Anyone here thinking about a virtual brand, don’t do it if it’s going to increase your work. It won’t work,” he said of the economy.

Food On Demand is a sister publication to Franchise Times. Check out more coverage from the Food On Demand conference, held May 4-6 in Las Vegas.

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