NewsFox 13 Investigates


'Virtual restaurants': Operating out of nationwide chains under different names

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jun 13, 2023

You’ve likely heard of catfishing — it’s when someone creates a fake identity online to appear as someone else.

But the food world has taken on this trend in a different way, and consumers are starting to take notice.

With delivery apps, it’s so easy to have your favorite cuisines delivered from practically any restaurant you want.

But how do you know you’re going to get food from the restaurant you ordered from?

Thanks to a viral Twitter thread, many people are commiserating over what can be dubbed a fast food fallacy, some calling certain food delivery app eateries “fake."

In the Twitter thread, one customer thought she was ordering pho from a Vietnamese restaurant. A quick Google search told her she was ordering from a Cajun seafood spot.

Or another befuddled buyer who ordered from “Chase Elliott Chicken Tenders” only to find Hooters at her door.

So, what gives?

An article from the New York Post highlights a New York bodega that goes by 27 different names across many food delivery apps.

FOX 13 News talked to an official with the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) about this pandemic-era practice that’s continued well beyond 2020.

They’re referred to as “virtual restaurants” — not to be confused with ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens include a separate kitchen crew that rents existing restaurant space to solely prepare food for an online delivery service.

Virtual restaurants are traditional brick-and-mortar eateries that may use different names across delivery apps to attract more customers.

It was thought to bring more revenue when businesses were struggling during the early days of COVID-19.

“Consumers deserve the same information whether they’re making a purchase online or at a brick-and-mortar retailer,” said Thomas Gremillion, the CFA’s Director of Food Policy.

And that’s where the CFA notes that this could get tricky.

Gremillion says virtual restaurants could be misleading to consumers, knowing that customers who are familiar with a restaurant’s brand may not want to purchase food from them because of that familiarity.

FOX 13 News came across this with DoorDash in Salt Lake City. The app lists both the “Burger Den” and “The Meltdown."

If you Google them, you’ll see they share the same address with Denny’s.

“When you have customer reviews available and clearly linked to an establishment, customers get a better idea of when a locale is selling low quality or even unsafe food, so there’s an element of accountability that’s lost when the same restaurant is putting itself out there under 20 different names,” Gremillion said.

FOX 13 News reached out to three food delivery services to see what customers should know before ordering: DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub.

All three sent us similar statements.

DoorDash said: “The restaurant industry continues to foster innovation, as there isn’t a one size fits all path for operators looking to grow their business. Local and national restaurants across the country have adopted virtual brands as a way to reach new customers, provide more selection within their neighborhoods, and grow their revenue cost-effectively. As each business has unique individual needs and growth goals, DoorDash is proud to partner with restaurants through a variety of ways – including through supporting delivery for virtual brands.

Uber Eats said: "We know delivery-only concepts are an exciting way for operators to invest in the growth of their businesses, and we've led the industry in creating quality standards for Virtual Restaurants on Uber Eats designed to benefit both consumers and merchants.”

Grubhub said: “A virtual restaurant is a delivery-only restaurant concept that’s operated from an existing brick-and-mortar restaurant. These concepts are just one way we help small businesses generate new revenue streams, reach more customers and get increased exposure on Grubhub without adding any overhead costs. For diners, they get to try new cuisines while supporting restaurateurs in their communities.”

Currently, virtual restaurants are permissible, so if you’re worried about where your food might be coming from, give Google a quick search.

“Buying food online, we should have access to health inspection ratings like we do when we visit a restaurant in person and we should have an accurate idea of where we’re purchasing from,” Gremillion said.

Story Idea or Tips
If you have a story idea or tip for the FOX 13 Investigative unit, please share it with us below: