Food Fight: NYCs Food Delivery Heats Up (Part 3)
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.
Based on my experience working at Caviar, starting a food delivery service, and seeing new services like Munchery and Maple launch in NYC, 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.
Few can follow through on the promise of quality food delivered in less than 10 minutes, but so far Uber Eats does. While there have been a few snafus early on, the company’s ability to combine logistics with the best fast casual options makes Uber Eats a real threat to the likes of Seamless and Caviar.
Savory isn’t the newest kid on the block, but they went to great lengths to put out a fantastic new app. What really differentiates Savory from the rest is their commitment to a full scale commissary kitchen. They’re not just switching up the menu and putting out 2–3 options a night.
GoodMeal was the first Vertically Integrated Delivery service to launch in NYC. And while they are unique because they provide healthy meals, the reality is that some of their proteins can be hit or miss. Their biggest positive will likely be their ability to get you food in under 20 minutes.
Munchery is the Granddaddy of the VIDs. Launched in San Francisco a few years ago, the service is somewhere between a home cooked meal and take out. The food arrives cold and it is recommended to heat it in the oven. Since the food arrives cold, they are able to offer a greater variety of meals than almost any other service, which also means they are a great choice for families with a variety of tastes.
In November of 2014 I was sitting in Caviar’s New York office when a New York Times article surfaced about David Chang of Momofuku investing in a new food delivery service. Shock and hysteria quickly swept the room. Momofuku was Caviar’s “golden goose”, the restaurant group that validated the model of high quality restaurants doing delivery. Worse yet, Caviar was doing an exclusive program with Momofuku, delivering bento boxes each day to WeWork. Had David Chang used Caviar to validate his concept? The reality was no, but with a name like David Chang and $22 million in backing, it was clear a war was beginning.
The concept of Maple is simple — a “restaurant” that only does delivery. Each day Maple offers 3 dishes for lunch and 3 dishes for dinner. All of the food is prepared in commissary kitchens, and upon ordering the food is cooked and sent off with a courier. The user benefits because these commissary kitchens can batch orders and provide a great price point and fast delivery.
When Maple finally launched on April 25th (almost 4 months after its expected launch date) it wasn’t the big blow out many thought it would be. The delivery zone was restricted to south of Chambers St. and UberEATS crashed the party.
In any event, when Maple finally launched I couldn’t get it — so on Thursday I took the 1 train down to Chambers St. and worked out of a Starbucks until lunch. At 11:47AM I opened the app, added an address below Chambers St. (81 West Broadway, which happened to be a nearby nail salon) and was presented with 1 option. My first thought was “what, 1 option?” It took me a moment to realize that more options were a swipe away. After looking at 3 options, I went with the Beef Stir Fry.
Checkout was easy enough, I just entered my credit card (kudos for the user experience with the CVC code). The confirmation screen said to expect my food in under 30 minutes. My order was placed at 11:51AM, so I figured I would be eating by 12:21PM at the latest.
The fact that Maple does not have delivery tracking was a huge let down. I know most people don’t stand in front of nail salons waiting for someone to bring their lunch, but every courier that passed by would get my hopes up. And while Maple would send me message “Your food is out for delivery or “your order is next to be delivered”, I felt that the messages were a waste of time.
At 12:26PM I spotted a lost courier looking for the address that I myself didn’t even know existed until that day. I waved him over and as he handed me my food I asked him a couple of questions about how busy he was and if he liked working for the company. Ironically enough, Maple’s delivery crew are all W2 employees skirting the trend of the 1099 worker that has helped so many on-demand startups scale.
First impression: the packaging is amazing. At Caviar we worked hard to get restaurants to adopt more standardized packaging but it never worked. If there is anything Maple has done better than its competitors, its the packaging. My food came in two boxes: one filled with the beef, peppers, onions and rice; the other filled with chinese broccoli. Upon first inspection, I noticed the portions were a bit on the smaller side, but for $12 including tax and tip, you can’t really complain.
So what’s the verdict? The food was good, but I wasn’t blown away by the flavor or the quality of the ingredients. For anyone expecting the same experience as dining at Momofuku, don’t kid yourself. The thing with delivery is that you can’t expect the same experience as dining in a restaurant. And that is exactly what David Chang and crew are aiming for — one where convenience and price are the biggest determinants of value, not the dining experience.
Would I order Maple Again? Probably- for $12 you can’t really do much better. The 30 minute delivery promise is still a work in progress but unless you need to get your food that fast (and who really does) the speed is just as good as anything else you might experience.
My biggest concern for Maple is the same concern I have for other vertically integrated delivery systems (VIDS): what happens when you really like a meal? Most people who order delivery have “their spots” and “their dishes”, which doesn’t work with Maple because you can’t reorder something you liked. In a city where “choice” is king, Maple chooses variety over familiarity.
And the winner is…
So which service should you use? Well that depends. The food delivery space is not and will not be a “winner take all” space. That’s like saying for your local pizza place to survive and thrive the Thai restaurant around the corner needs to go out of business. There will be a use case for each service and multiples will exist. Sure there will be some consolidation, but if anyone tells you only one can win, just remind them that there are over 10,000 restaurants in NYC.
My Picks For…
Speed: Uber Eats
Best Value: Maple
Health: Good Meal
Most Well Rounded: Munchery