Ordering takeout food has always been a huge and cherished part of American culture, from pizzas in dorm rooms to spreads of Chinese food cartons sprawled across sitcom dining room tables. As smartphones evolved from interesting tech toys to vital lifestyle tools from the 1990s onward, it was only a matter of time before the two concepts - to-go food and virtual concepts - merged into the array of food delivery apps we enjoy today.
Restaurant owners, from the smallest corner diners to the largest quick service conglomerates, have had to shift restaurant delivery strategies, priorities, and survival tactics in 2020 and beyond. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of food service, from the supply chains that keep commercial kitchens stocked to the workers that prep the ingredients, and, of course, the customers that keep the doors open.
With a wide range of partner choices for gig-based food delivery, which brands make the most sense for restaurant owners to embrace? The answer is, unsurprisingly, very nuanced: it depends heavily on a restaurant's size, menu, location, and preferences. The food delivery app commission rate also holds considerable weight in that decision process, as does the type of restaurant using the service. The pandemic also fed a recent restaurant trend towards "ghost kitchens" - food preparation locations intended only to serve online ordering / food delivery customers, rather than a hybrid of to-go and in-person dining.
Breakdown of Restaurant Delivery Apps
- Founded: 2004
- Active Users: 31 Million+
- App: Yes, iOS/Android
- Who Loves It: New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston are all big fans of GrubHub, giving the app roughly a third or so of the app-based food delivery pie in these metro areas.
GrubHub is usually mentioned in tandem with DoorDash, particularly in large metro areas. Unlike the peaks and valleys for domain coverage seen in other apps, the approachable app has spread its roots far and wide across the country, and is found in most major cities. Incorporating features like the Grubhub app map search, which allows hungry users in an unfamiliar territory to find tasty local fare, it's a fan favorite for usability. While individual experiences (and the locals' penchant for tip percentages) will influence impressions from gig worker to gig worker, drivers seem to flock to the Grubhub app for its fair per-delivery wages and transparency in pay, particularly after the tip-stealing uproar of 2019 that saw DoorDash PR working overtime.
While once a rumored contender for UberEats' buyout hunt, GrubHub still emerged as a self-owned company amid frantic pandemic-spurred growth. GrubHub is publicly traded on the NYSE under the ticker symbol GRUB.
- Founded: 2011
- Active Users: 10 Million+
- App-Based: Yes, iOS/Android
- Who Loves It: While the service is now folded into UberEats' structure and territory, the app's largest market shares were found in Los Angeles and Phoenix, when it operated independently.
Postmates, once a solid third-runner-up in the food delivery app skirmishes, is no longer an independent agent. UberEats bought out Postmates in mid-2020, bolstering its own market share through acquisition in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. This app-based delivery service operated in a similar fashion to their competitors, acting as a middleman to place orders, hire gig worker drivers, and deliver food to hungry customers.
Wall Street was eagerly awaiting the rumored IPO for PostMates at the height of their popularity, but it didn't manifest before the buyout. Now, of course, the company is part and parcel of parent company Uber / UberEats' ticker symbol UBER.
- Founded: 2011
- Active Users: 7 Million+
- App: Yes, iOS/Android
- Who Loves It: Restaurants, particularly smaller local mom-and-pop style operations, which might otherwise take a financial hit from the larger services' commission percentages.
ChowNow has the distinction of being a separate "hat in the ring" when it comes to food delivery services. Rather than a standalone service, the company instead focuses on facilitating online presence and ease for restaurants, enabling otherwise tech-challenged or outpaced "analog" food service outlets to join the wave of exciting innovation. Rather than a per-order commission fee, the service offers restaurant orders a predictable cost each month to deliver flexibility without the worry of unknown costs. Today, restaurants have a wide variety of options for taking their tasty offerings to the web and mobile devices everywhere, including partnering with food delivery infrastructure companies like Cuboh.
- Founded: 2013
- Active Users: 18 Million+
- App: Yes, iOS/Android
- Who Loves It: A heavy-hitter in metro areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles in California, and coveted swaths of Texas like Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
RELATED READING: Ultimate Guide to Using DoorDash for Your Restaurant
Alliteration and two-syllable brands almost seem to be an unspoken rule in the app-based food delivery sphere, and arguably no names roll off the tongue quite like DoorDash. With their signature red bags, gear, and checkmark-like logo, the company has been gunning to become the xerox, kleenex, or band-aid of food delivery services in the hearts and minds of consumers; a household term that stands for the entire industry. Shoulder-to-shoulder with GrubHub in terms of visibility, the app's large user base can't quite be classified as "scrappy," but that's definitely the energy they bring to the competition table. All that hard-won visibility does come with a cost, however: the service became something of a social pariah in 2019, when angry gig worker drivers revealed the company was covertly using customer tips to subsidize driver wages.
Unsurprisingly, DoorDash also made the leap to the NYSE as a publicly-traded company, though well after competitor GrubHub did so in 2014. DASH stock was made available beginning in late 2020.
Active Users: 66 Million+
App: Yes, iOS/Android
Who Loves It: Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, and Chicago have all embraced the rideshare company's food arm, as well as their transportation offerings.
A natural evolution of what, arguably, became the name in delivering people, UberEats rose to fame as the go-to for late night delivery from popular fast food chains like McDonald's. The company's much-hyped partnership with the golden arches helped cement it as an option to wary new food delivery app users, and paved the way for many competitors to muscle into the space in their wake. Bolstered by the strength and longevity of their human-based transportation options, UberEats wasn't as vulnerable to the highs and lows of America's budding love affair with food delivery apps. Today, they enjoy a widespread market share with territories that mimic GrubHub's.