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Getting dinner delivered to your doorstep is as easy as a few taps on your phone. The harder part is deciding which app to use.
Services like GrubHub/Seamless (they merged in 2013) and Eat24 (now owned by Yelp) have been available in Philadelphia for half a decade or longer. For the most part, these companies provide online portals to eateries that already offer delivery — think spots that serve Chinese, burritos, pizza or hoagies — and mostly rely on the restaurant’s own employees to bring the food to your door.
Philly at-home dining options leapt up a notch in 2014 with the launches of Postmates and Caviar. Both services provide a network of delivery couriers (made up of Uber-like independent contractors), allowing a whole slate of high-end dining establishments to jump into the on-demand fray.
So there are both budget-focused and gourmet-targeted services to choose from, and it’s not even just a question of picking within the two categories, because there’s now overlap. Earlier this year, GrubHub acquired DiningIn, which added a fleet of dedicated couriers and higher-end establishments to the company’s stable (Jose Garces spots are now GrubHub-able, for example).
Does it even make a difference whose app you fire up, in the end? To find out, Billy Penn put several competing services through their paces with a series of head-to-head tests.
Postmates vs Caviar: Neapolitan pie from Pizzeria Vetri
Ask any chef and they’ll tell you Neapolitan pizza doesn’t travel well. That doesn’t stop people from wanting to enjoy the chewy, tangy crust covered with fresh toppings in the comfort of their own homes. Deluxe online ordering services to the rescue.
Interface: The devs at Caviar had a brilliant revelation: People don’t mind scrolling! Instead of Postmates’ short lists that you drill into to make ever-more detailed selections, every Caviar menu item is arranged in a long scroll, complete with a photo. It saves time and is less annoying than navigating back to the main menu after you add to cart. A unique feature in Postmates is that it asks you to choose a preference for “substitutions” (take merchant’s recommendation, leave item out, or cancel order), so that if the kitchen happens to be out of an ingredient, a courier won’t have to call you to find out what to do. Both let you track your order in real time, but Postmates’ tracker had a tendency to get stuck in one location, even if the courier was obviously on the go.
Notifications: Both apps send three alerts for each order: one to confirm your order was placed, another when the courier picks it up and a third when the courier is about to arrive. Postmates suffered another lag here, though — the “Your order is on its way” and the “Your order is about to arrive” notifications popped up just after the delivery person dropped the order off.
Price: Caviar — 18% service fee, $1.99 delivery; Postmates — 9% service fee, $6.75 delivery. Caviar offers a special low delivery rate for restaurants that are close by, where Postmates starts at $5 and goes up from there. About the service fee: Postmates looks lower, but the app prompts you to add a tip after the order is delivered, hinting that your courier won’t make buck if you don’t tack on that additional 10, 15 or 20 percent, so it ends up just as high — if not higher.
Speed: Caviar — 25 minutes; Postmates — 31 minutes. Not a huge difference, but noticeable.
Quality: Neapolitan pizza doesn’t carry all that much heat with it to begin with, but the Postmates pie had zero warmth left when opened, whereas the Caviar pie still had residual heat at the bottom of its crust. Could have to do with the slightly longer delivery time, or the fact that the Caviar courier kept the food in its insulated carrying case until after the door was opened.
Caviar vs GrubHub: Soup dumplings from Dim Sum Garden
The idea of soup dumpling delivery might elicit gasps of horror from aficionados, since the signature characteristic of what are also known as xiao long bao is the broth that fills the steamed dough pockets — ideally served hot enough to burn your tongue. The fact remains, though, that one of the best purveyors in the city offers them up via multiple online services.
Interface: Caviar’s idea of listing each menu item next to an appetizing photo might cost the company at the outset (a pro photographer is sent to each restaurant client when they sign up), but it probably reaps benefits — everything looks so appetizing, customers are likely to add more dishes to each order. In comparison, GrubHub’s red-and-beige menu feels like eating at McDonald’s.
Notifications: GrubHub only sends two notifications compared to Caviar’s three, but is more accurate when it comes to predicting what time your order will actually arrive. Caviar, it seems, purposely overestimates how long the whole process will take, following the mantra of “overpromise and underdeliver.”
Price: Caviar — 18% service fee, $4.99 delivery; GrubHub — tip at your discretion, $2.99 delivery. Where Caviar automatically includes the tip, GrubHub lets you stiff the delivery person if you’re so inclined, providing potential savings (although restaurants can set minimums — for Dim Sum Garden it was $2). The difference in delivery fee ($2) isn’t that dramatic.
Speed: Caviar — 51 minutes; GrubHub — 74 minutes. Neither order was speedy, but there’s a large discrepancy between the two. Did the Caviar order get expedited in the kitchen or did the restaurant’s delivery person make more stops along the way? Either way, it made a big difference in the finished product.
Quality: If there was any doubt that the beauty of soup dumplings is dependent on that piping hot liquid inside, the GrubHub order confirmed it. That set of dumplings was still full of broth (leakage is a potential danger), but it was lukewarm, and dragged down the whole experience — nearly half the dumplings went uneaten. On the other hand, homebound xiao long bao fans can rejoice, because Caviar delivered a set that were great — almost as hard to stop slurping down as those served at the restaurant.
GrubHub vs Eat24: Breakfast sandwiches from Cosmi’s Deli
Is it really necessary to place a delivery order for something as simple as a bacon, egg and cheese? If you’re asking the question, your lack of rough Sunday mornings is one to be admired/pitied. In any case, despite the working-horse status of the sandwich, it’s one that can easily be ruined by time or mishandling, making it a valuable litmus test.
Interface: If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand a few seconds of loading animation without accompanying cute messages (“Rolling sushi…” “Melting chocolate…”), Eat24’s user experience will make you happy. That’s also true if you’re the kind of person who makes restaurant decisions based on Yelp reviews, because they’re listed right there. Otherwise, the user experience is pretty similar, down to the cherry red color scheme.
Notifications: Eat24 is even less aggressive than it’s budget-level sibling, sending only one alert, to confirm your order was received and to give you an ETA. That ETA was incorrect, however — it predicted a delivery 5 minutes earlier than it happened — while GrubHub’s ETA was right on the money.
Price: GrubHub — tip at your discretion, $1.50 delivery fee; Eat24 — tip at your discretion; $1.50 delivery fee. No differences here.
Speed: GrubHub — 40 minutes; Eat24 — 40 minutes. Since both these apps use a restaurant’s own delivery staff when available, the speed should be the same — and it was.
Quality: No difference, and you wouldn’t expect one, since it’s the same delivery person handling your food.
Winner: GrubHub (based mostly on app interface — so YMMV, as noted above).