How Online Food Delivery Services Will Change the Way We Eat Out

In the late 90s, I had a genius idea. For my group of friends, our weekend meal ritual was pretty consistent: Head over to the local Wendy's, drop a five dollar bill on a handful of dollar menu items, and feast while we played "RBI Baseball." There was just one drag associated with the whole process: Getting in the car and driving to Wendy's.

My idea, then, was for a service to pick up your food order from any food establishment and drop it off. This was, of course, pre-Internet. (At least, the Internet as we know it.) So the ability for this teenager to figure out the logistics of such an idea was maddeningly difficult, especially when there were more important avenues that sucked away my concentration (chief among them, the aforementioned "RBI Baseball").

And now, that boat has sailed. Even if I wanted to delve back into those entrepreneurial waters now, I'm way too late.

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In December, crowd-sourced taxi cab Uber rolled out their new uberFRESH service into several Los Angeles neighborhoods. The specifics of the service are unique, in that they offer one meal from two different restaurants that users can choose from. Drivers carry around 100 of these meals in their car, so if you order one up, it'll show up at your doorstep in a jiffy. (While supplies last, at least.) But they're only the latest folks to join the party.

AmazonFresh came to L.A. with their grocery delivery service way back in 2013. (San Francisco and San Diego soon followed, with Amazon expanding the service to New York and Philadelphia late last year.) This put them in direct competition with similar services offered by Safeway and the start-up Instacart. There's also the rise of the speciality service, like start-up ToGo626.com, which delivers authentic Chinese food straight from the San Gabriel Valley to the doors of Angelenos.

Essentially, if you're still physically going out to restaurants and grocery stores, you're doing it all wrong.

"Food is definitely a macro trend," said Seth Goldman, the CEO of Hello Fresh. "People want to get away from frozen TV dinners. People want to cook more in general."

Hello Fresh began as a food delivery service in 2011, focusing on the European market before shifting to the U.S., starting in New York before expanding to the West Coast last September. Their hook is that each shipment is specifically tailored towards certain recipes. They deliver over one million meals worldwide and have the "capability to deliver to over 430 million people worldwide." (Their L.A.-based service utilizes UPS logistics to navigate such a large area.)

As Goldman notes, the Internet works so well with food delivery because the food business was, until recently, so old fashioned. "Food was ripe for dramatic changes," Goldman said. "You know, we'll get some vendors who send us invoices scrawled on a piece of paper that asks us what our fax numbers is. I think the food industry was definitely ripe for innovation."

This, along with the fact that people are now more comfortable with the concept of paying online and having items delivered to their doors (thanks, Amazon!). The recent economic recovery also lead towards this new market taking shape. And, it's not just urban hubs that are using these services.

"Our product fits differently for different types of people," said Goldman. "You have your true urbanites. But if you move to the suburbs, there are fewer options for dining out, so it can be a great solution for folks who don't want to run to the store. And then there are people living in food deserts, who email us and say a trip to the grocery store is 40 minutes away."

As far as where online food delivery goes from here, there is no limit. "Offering diet-focused meal plans, additional services that can come with your box, dessert, lunch, breakfast -- there are a lot of other things we can do," Goldman said. "We can easily curate a marketplace where you can buy kitchen equipment -- pretty much anything based around food and cooking and the kitchen as the heart of the home."

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