San Francisco restaurants opt to go 'virtual' as more local eateries close 

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- When we think of restaurants you probably think of a dining room, a bar, maybe an outdoor patio. But in San Francisco, the restaurant world is slowly starting to look a little more low-key.

As restaurants continue to close due to changing eating habits, high costs and a labor shortage, more restaurants are opting to go "virtual" -- meaning they forgo dine-in service and instead focus only on delivery.

RELATED: Closure of beloved East Bay restaurant Kincaid's in Oakland takes customers by surprise

Firepie in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood -- which operates out of a few trucks in a parking lot, and offers high-quality pizzas delivered in 15 pizzas -- is one example.

Rick Richman, the founder, originally hoped to open a brick and mortar restaurant, but soon realized it just wasn't feasible. So, like so many others, he decided to simplify as a way to cut down on costs.

"The cost for brick, especially in San Francisco, is insane," Richman told ABC7 News. "Second part of this is the direction of the consumer. Consumer trends are that dine-in is actually going down and delivery is going up."

UberEats recently said "virtual restaurants" is one of their areas of growth an even has a guide online for how to open one.

Under a section that asks what the benefits are, the guide says, " This program allows you to create new brands and deliver new cuisines to customers, without the risk and expense of opening another physical location."

It seems like a smart concept, but according to San Francisco State University Assistant Professor Sybil Yang, who teaches in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, the trend also has some risks.

RELATED: Local restaurant owner explains why so many San Francisco eateries are closing

"Going the virtual route sounds easier but not really," Yang explained. "It's an operational nightmare on top of an already complex operation."

Still, Yang predicts as costs go up and fewer people eat out restaurants will continue to close unless they adapt.

"Across the restaurant spectrum, fast-casual is probably the place to be," she explained, pointing out that they're more accessible for people and have lower labor costs.

"San Franciscans might not like to hear it," she added, "But we'll probably see more chains because they're probably more able to open up, and independent restaurants it's going to be hard to gain that traction."

Richman believes going virtual is his best option, but even he admits it could impact an already hurting the restaurant industry.

RELATED: String of San Francisco restaurants closing their doors

"It is hurting the restaurant industry," he said of delivery, "And that's where regular brick and mortar and dine in restaurants are going to need to adapt."

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