The rise of the virtual restaurant

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Ricky Lopez owns four restaurants: Top Round Roast Beef in San Francisco and three that exist only within the Uber Eats delivery app.CreditCreditCayce Clifford for The New York Times

 Food delivery apps are reshaping the restaurant industry — and how we eat — by inspiring digital-only establishments that don’t need a dining room or waiters.

SAN FRANCISCO — At 9:30 on most weeknights, Ricky Lopez, the head chef and owner of Top Round Roast Beef in San Francisco, stacks up dozens of hot beef sandwiches and sides of curly fries to serve hungry diners.

He also breads chicken cutlets for another of his restaurants, Red Ribbon Fried Chicken. He flips beef patties on the grill for a third, TR Burgers and Wings. And he mixes frozen custard for a dessert shop he runs, Ice Cream Custard.

Of Mr. Lopez’s four operations, three are “virtual restaurants” with no physical storefronts, tables or chairs. They exist only inside a mobile app, Uber Eats, the on-demand meal delivery service owned by Uber.

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