At the turn of the century, when Seamless was launched, as an office tool to place large orders from restaurants and caterers, it didn’t register as a threat. And it didn’t just eat in Denmark (2001), Grubhub (2004) or a host of others, who all began to swallow each other in a series of mergers and acquisitions that read as a technical version of biblical birth announcements: “And Just Eat has acquired Hungryhouse from Delivery Hero , Seamless merged with Grubhub, and Greylock Partners and Redpoint Ventures invested in Just Eat, which gave birth to SkipTheDishes.”
As with humans, the group of companies has grown wider and more diverse. Here is a partial list of the main competitors and also managed companies in this field: Talabat, Snapfinger, Hungryhouse, Menulog, Eat24Hours, Ele.me, EatStreet, Eat Club, Munchery, Postmates, OrderAhead, DoorDash, ChowNow, Caviar, Foodpanda, Menu Set, SkipTheDishes , SpoonRocket, Deliveroo, Gopuff, Hello Curry, Foodora, Dunzo, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Wolt, TinyOwl, InnerChef, Maple, Tapingo, Rappi, Spring, Chowbus , and Glovo. As they proliferate and merge, these companies have collected more detailed and accurate customer data, as information is aggregated into a tool that can anticipate and meet customer demands more efficiently than even seasoned restaurateurs.
The arrival of the iPhone in 2007, followed by the 2008 recession and the mobilization of an entire generation of young engineers to create apps in the get-rich-quick rush to become the next Facebook, was an untenable attack on restaurants. A host with a reservation book and a landline was insufficiently equipped to compete with the application technology that was suddenly in the pocket of every diner, providing data to Silicon Valley app companies. Within a few years, these companies knew more about restaurant customers—what we wanted, when we wanted it, and how much we were willing to pay—than a small business could ever do.
In 2016, a number of these companies made news by halting their as yet unimpeded growth. Before the shutdown, Pinto acknowledged there was more money to be made in catering than on-demand delivery, SpoonRocket sold its technology to Brazilian food chain iFood, and Square tried to sell caviar to Uber or Grubhub.
When word spread that third-party delivery was unprofitable, despite much advertised sales, the conversation turned. The problem wasn’t that the emperor wasn’t wearing clothes, and that these companies — worth billions, with more investment money pouring in every day — had crowded restaurants and investors. It was, of course, that food delivery was not profitable. Not with human labor. When restaurant meals arrive at our door via drones, robots and self-driving cars, that’s when the sector goes from red to black. “If we don’t get [autonomous car] Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, said: USA TODAY in 2016.
All of these companies prefer to be known as tech companies, rather than taxi or restaurant companies. This is correct. They don’t deliver food. Many of them supply to other agencies, such as Relay, Homer Logistics (acquired by Waitr), and Habitat Logistics. Bicycle and car carriers are never employees but “independent contractors,” giving the company maximum exemptions from labor and employment laws regarding scheduling, overtime, sick pay, and wages.
These companies stick to the legal fantasy that their product is something other than delivery, that the couriers are not employees, and they get around the details of the service they actually provide, reminding you that you are getting the food brought to you Because them, in a way that is difficult to quantify. “Grubhub helps you find and order food wherever you are.” “Uber Eats is the easy way to get your favorite food delivered.” “Whatever you want, we get it. Order a delivery for yourself or with friends and watch in real time as Postmate brings you all the things you love.” It’s a great copywriting job, which means that they serve food without mentioning it, thus avoiding the responsibility of identifying themselves as delivery companies.