Food Fight: NYCs Food Delivery Heats Up

A bit of background

Six and a half years ago I came to NYC to visit a friend living in the city. As dinner time rolled around he told me to log onto “Seamless Web” and order something. At the time I couldn’t imagine what “Seamless Web” had to do with ordering food — but within seconds I realized I would never pick up the phone to order food again.

Since then, “Seamless Web” rebranded as “Seamless” and has become synonymous with ordering delivery in NYC — by all accounts it is still the “800 LB Gorilla” when it comes to food delivery. A little over two weeks ago both Uber Eats and Maple launched in NYC, looking to enter the food delivery space and gain market share.

Based on my experience working at Caviar and having seen these new services launch, I decided to try out the newcomers and see how they compared. Instead of providing an in depth analysis of each service and declaring a “Food Delivery War Winner” (spoiler — there will not be a winner in food delivery), I decided to write a piece detailing my experience with five of the newest entrants — UberEATS, Savory, Maple, Good Meal and Munchery.

Before you continue reading, I want to make two things absolutely clear:

  1. Each service is onto something
  2. It is still early on in the delivery game

Sharing my experience with each service is not meant to crown one winner or highlight their flaws — it’s simply me sharing and giving my opinions. I’ll be the first person to tell you how hard it is to build a company, attract users, and make them happy.

Part 1 of 3:

UberEATS

Two weeks ago I woke up to a barrage of emails in my inbox, the first being from Uber announcing “We Launched UberEATS in NYC!” The remaining emails were from friends, Curplated users, and even my mom letting me know they got the same email. I think you’d be hard pressed to find an active Uber user in Manhattan who doesn’t know that UberEATS exists — just open the app and you can see “Eats” as a way of “getting a ride”.

Don’t expect a Black Toyota to pull up with your meal in NYC. Uber is delivering the goods by pushcart in the city.

Of all of the platforms I was curious to try, Uber wasn’t that high on the list. Their model is simple and something Postmates did last summer. Each day users get 2–3 options from a restaurant that Uber struck a business development deal with. Uber buys a boatload of items and gives them to couriers to walk around with in Midtown Manhattan until a user places an order.

Two days after UberEATS launched I opened up my Uber app, selected a salad from sweetgreen and BOOM — 9 minutes later my sweetgreen salad was delivered! Unlike any of the other delivery services, Uber stresses efficiency and speed above all else. To maximize speed they don’t send the couriers inside building, requiring users to come down and pick up their food.

It was after using Uber Eats that I really began to think about Uber as a serious player in the field and not some Google-esque experiment. To me the beauty of UberEATS is the company’s ability to match high quality establishments like sweetgreen and Mighty Quinn’s to users who are willing to give up some customization in exchange for delivery in the time it takes to walk around the block.

But wait, there’s more.

About a week after UberEATS launched I decided to go to Chipotle for some tacos. It was Cinco de Mayo and like any good New Yorker, I wanted to celebrate The Battle of Puebla. I had about 20 minutes to get food before a meeting, which is usually enough time to brave a Chipotle line and get my tacos. But with this being Cinco de Mayo it was clear that the line was going to be an issue. Still wanting tacos, I decided to see if Uber had set something up with a Mexican restaurant to deliver “Tacos on Demand.” Sure enough, Empallon Al Pastor was on the menu and without thinking about it I ordered three beef tacos.

And then I discovered why UberEATS is still a beta product. About 2 seconds after selecting tacos, I decided I also wanted chips and guac. Unfortunately, Uber doesn’t allow you to place another order while your trip/“order” is in progress. When the courier did arrive, I asked him if I could order chips. Without blinking an eye he told me to place another order and assured me it would be routed to him. Turns out the order went to another courier 8 blocks away.

There was a bit of frustration — my uber-filed life wasn’t as slick as Travis probably envisioned. However, waiting another five minutes isn’t the end of the world, especially when I would still be online at Chipotle.

When the courier did arrive, he handed me pork tacos and then reached in his bag for the chips. When I got the tacos I told him that there must be a mix-up because (1) I don’t eat pork and (2) I only ordered chips. He showed me a text message from Uber with my order — tacos and chips.

Unfortunately, my order was not on his actual Uber app, which wound up being a headache. The courier let me know that in order to process the UberEATS order, he has to manually enter in the correct price of the food; since he didn’t know the price of the tacos off the top of his head and because I couldn’t pull up my menu, he guessed $6.00 (when your order or “trip” is in progress you can’t look at the menu).

When all was said and done, Uber did the best job delivering on its core value proposition: to get you food ASAP. What the service lacks in customization, it makes up in speed.

Savory

If you’ve ever worked at a bank or a law firm in Midtown chances are you’ve encountered Savory. Savory was started by ex-bankers who wanted more “quality” options on Seamless. When banks are doling out $25-$35 nightly stipends and you only spend $12.50 on a platter from Glaze you feel like you’re missing something. In any event, Savory’s entrance into the on-demand food space wasn’t something out of the blue — they opened on Seamless, got traction, expanded the brand to “Savory Full”, and then launched an app.

Before I even ordered from the Savory app I had already played around with it. The company did a great job highlighting their dishes. Ordering is a bit of a UX design preference; instead of clicking an item to add it to the cart a user slides the item to the right.

True to their Seamless roots, Savory does have a delivery minimum — one you can’t wiggle your way out of by playing with a higher tip. So while I had a Savory coupon, I also added some cookies for good measure to make sure I hit that minimum.

After checkout you are given an opportunity to request push notifications for order updates. But to my surprise there was no email confirmation or even a receipt in the app to assure me that my order had been received. When I placed my order at 12:07pm I popped into a quick meeting. Savory’s delivery window is 30 minutes and considering that I work a few blocks from their commissary kitchen I expected the food to arrive on the earlier side. In any event my food arrived at 12:49pm, not bad during the Midtown lunch rush but a bit off of their estimate.

The biggest issue I had with Savory is that they try to do too much with their app and dishes. The menu has sixteen different categories from “Healthful” and “Cheesy” to a “Drink” and “Snack” section. Unless you are familiar with their menu you might spend a good amount of time searching through the app.

In terms of taste and quality, Savory is no better or worse than any of the other options, but I do think it would serve them wisely to slim down the offerings. In the Atlantic Sobaman I ordered, I counted 7 ingredients — salmon, soba noodles, sautéed kale, black barley with asparagus, black eye peas and spinach.

Savory’s packaging is up there with Maple and Munchery, maybe not as refined as Maple but one best packaging and branding jobs I’ve seen.

The biggest differentiator to Savory might actually be the consistency of the menu. Instead of rotating through different dishes each night, Savory’s menu is typically the same. So if you actually decide you want to order the same dish again, you have that option.

As time goes on it will be interesting to see if Savory embraces more options or limits the choice users have.

To Be Continued…

Part 2

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