A Restaurant Without a Shingle

Virtual restaurants started before the pandemic, but the explosion in delivery and curbside pickup has sped things up

John I. Carney
Marker
Published in
4 min readNov 29, 2021

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Plastic container with takeout chicken wings
Photo: EasyBuy4u/Getty Images

I had Cajun-seasoned chicken wings and curly fries today from It’s Just Wings, a restaurant that doesn’t actually exist. The wings were just fine.

Some of you are already familiar with the concept of the “virtual restaurant,” but others may be less familiar. Basically, a virtual restaurant is a delivery-only or delivery-and-carryout-only brand that depends on another restaurant’s kitchen to prepare its food.

In some cases, the virtual restaurant and the brick-and-mortar restaurant which hosts it are owned by the same people. Brinker International is a restaurant company that owns both Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy. It created It’s Just Wings as a way of getting a little more value out of the kitchens it was already running. It’s Just Wings has a very different menu from Chili’s; as the name implies, it offers only one entree, chicken wings (as well as “boneless wings,” which I insist on pointing out aren’t wings at all); one side item, curly fries; and one dessert, deep-fried Oreo cookies. You can also get soft drinks. Chili’s does have chicken wings on its regular menu, but with fewer flavor options. It’s Just Wings has a wide variety of sauces and rubs.

If you were to order delivery from It’s Just Wings, you might never know it was connected to Chili’s at all. But It’s Just Wings also offers curbside pickup, and that means parking in one of the “Chili’s To Go” spaces beside your local Chili’s (or Maggiano’s, if you happen to live closer to a Maggiano’s than you do to a Chili’s). The wings are actually prepared in the Chili’s kitchen.

In other cases, the virtual restaurant does not own its host kitchens, but simply makes deals with other restaurants. In my hometown, you could order from the virtual chain MrBeast Burger and the burger would be made up by our local Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries, which is part of a completely unrelated brick-and-mortar chain. In another city, a completely different restaurant, perhaps independent and locally owned, might be the source of those burgers from MrBeast in your order. At its website, MrBeast Burger has an interest form that…

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John I. Carney
Marker
Writer for

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike