In 2019, leaving your living room for anything feels old-fashioned. Video rentals folded to streaming, CDs succumbed to Spotify. Ordering takeout has long been a tradition in the food industry. But with companies such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, Grubhub and Postmates, delivery services have changed. Anything from produce to Panda Express can now come directly to your door for a small fee. The food delivery service boom has hit Columbia, and for establishments who already delivered, the new arrival is an adjustment.
A new opportunity
Jeff Martin, a partner at The Italian Village on Vandiver Drive, says both of the restaurant’s locations are embracing the trend. They can be found on nearly every area service such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. When a person types “pizza” into one of the companies’ search bars, Martin says they’d like to be one of the first results. There are perceived advantages to being on different services, but not everyone is buying into the supposed benefits.
Toby Epstein, general manager of Shakespeare’s Pizza Downtown, says he tries not to let the demand of using other services affect his business. He admits Shakespeare’s three locations have had some issues with food delivery services. Previously, the company was on DoorDash and the now-defunct OrderUp. Today, the restaurant isn’t on any.
“These groups will argue that they’re bringing in sales you otherwise wouldn’t be getting,” Epstein says. “We’re a little uncertain if that’s true or not.” Although Shakespeare’s isn’t opposed to partnering with services, he is cautious about allowing his business to be used by a third party and the loss of control that comes with outsourcing.
Product quality is also a major concern for Roland Chacon, area manager for all four local Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafes. His company was put on several delivery services a year ago and not notified until delivery drivers started coming into the store. For such outside food delivery services, understanding the restaurant’s menu is impossible for a driver who goes to numerous establishments a day. Pickleman’s has its own delivery service, and its drivers get three days of in-house training before delivering.
“I worried that when the customer gets a delivery driver from another company delivering Pickleman’s food in a Pickleman’s bag, that we might be misrepresented,” Chacon says. Last summer, he contacted several companies to get answers. “None of the delivery companies want to talk to us in any way,” he says. “The only one that said anything to me was Grubhub and Uber and they just said, ‘Well, we think we can deliver better than you can or we wouldn’t be doing this.’”
One advantage, he admits, is that these delivery services reach more people out of Pickleman’s typical delivery zone. But each restaurant says they’ve had issues with food arriving late, cold or unsightly, and customers can sometimes blame the name on the box, not the delivery service.
Embracing the delivery boom
Previously, a select few restaurants offered delivery, but third-party services are now handling more than 50% of food delivery nationally.
None of the three local restaurants were able to specify if they are financially affected, but across the country, delivery services cut into restaurant profits. According to a March article in The Wall Street Journal, “food sellers pay the services an average fee of 10% to 25% on each order, which means the actual deliveries often lose money. Better placement on the services’ websites or apps costs even more.”
A once limited market has ballooned. “Before, you only got to choose between pizza, Chinese food and sandwich shops for delivery,” says Martin of Italian Village. “But now everybody delivers. So they’re all my competition now.”