It’s nine o’clock and you’ve been way too busy to even think about dinner. Now you’re starving and just want to get some food as quickly as possible. In the past, this situation may have led to ordering a pizza or some subpar Chinese food, often the only options available for delivery. But this is 2019, and an expanding category of food delivery apps has emerged to offer just about any food imaginable delivered within the hour.
In an attempt to help solve the question of “What’s for dinner?”, I undertook the terribly onerous task of ordering lots of food in order to research this article. It’s a hard job, but someone had to do it. In order to find out who was the best at delivering the bacon, I focused on four of the most popular meal delivery apps and services, each of which allows you to order from a variety of restaurants: DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, and Uber Eats. These apps are some of the largest players in the restaurant delivery space, and also have the most nationwide coverage. Even if your favorite isn’t covered here, many of the tips and recommendations in this article will also apply to other food and restaurant delivery apps.
Food delivery apps operate under a basic premise. You use an app or website to browse a restaurant menu and choose the items you like. After you place your order, it's relayed to the restaurant. The restaurant prepares your order while a driver is dispatched to pick up your food. The effectiveness of this approach varies widely, and the results can range from receiving your items within 15-20 minutes, to finding out a half-hour later that the restaurant no longer carries the item you ordered.
The sign-up process for each of the sites is quite simple, and involves providing your phone number or email address along with some basic information, such as your delivery address and any special instructions for finding your place. Payment information is collected when you order and can be saved for future meals. Each of these apps will offer some sort of bonus for signing up, such as free delivery or a few bucks off your first order. If you have a friend who has ordered from a service before, ask them to send you an invitation, and then both you and your friend can save a few dollars on your next meal. As you will see below, it’s advantageous to use multiple services if you are going to regularly order delivery, as pricing and promotions will vary from week to week.
The Meat of the Process
If you’ve never ordered food using an app before, the process is very similar to online shopping, with your items being added to a cart as you browse. Restaurants are usually listed by category or feature, or may be suggested based on your prior orders. Most services will show you the delivery fee up front, with places that are closer to you featuring a lower fee. Not all restaurants are available on all services. For example, Uber Eats and Grubhub partner with specific restaurants that choose to join the service to provide a more seamless experience.
Once you have selected a restaurant that you are interested in, you will be shown their menu. Popular items and dishes you have ordered before may be highlighted. Once you select an item, you may be given the opportunity to customize it. For example, if ordering a burger, you might be asked about desired toppings, side items, or if you want a bun.
Once you are satisfied with your order, you checkout by entering in your payment details and any other special instructions. You also have the opportunity to leave a tip directly on this screen, though you could also choose to tip in cash when the driver arrives.
While on the checkout screen, pay attention to the various fees that are being charged. These can easily add up and make the entire experience cost-prohibitive, especially for a single user. Often, the fees will be grouped under a single item, such as “Delivery fees, $8.63.” Selecting this item will often expand this display to show a breakdown of all of the fees that are included. Some of the charges that you may see include:
A delivery fee for the order itself, ranging from a couple of bucks to $7.49 or more
A service fee based on the items in your cart, often a percentage of the total bill
A low order fee, typically $2, for orders under $10 before fees
A surge or busy fee in cases where there is high demand for delivery and not enough drivers, similar to surge pricing or primetime fees from Uber and Lyft
Your tip for the order (many of the other fees do not get directly passed on to the driver)
As you can tell, it’s quite possible for a small order to be dwarfed by lots of extra charges. I added a delicious-sounding Western BBQ ‘n Bacon Steakburger from Steak ‘N Shake which was listed at $5.29. After the delivery, service, and low order fee, as well as a modest tip, the total was well over $15. This is one reason why I will often bounce between delivery apps, as I can often find a promotion available that will counteract some of these charges.
The Waiting Game
Once your order has been placed, the anticipation from your stomach begins. Thankfully, the apps generally do a good job of keeping you updated of the progress of your food. You will typically be informed when your food has been prepared, when your driver has been sent, and ultimately what time your food will arrive. If there is a problem with an item on the menu, an occurrence more common with DoorDash or Postmates because of outdated menus, your driver or a company worker will contact you to discuss alternatives.
Once you are alerted or notice that your food is about to arrive, it's best to be outside of your building or location to meet the driver. Their goal is to deliver as many meals as possible, and meeting them at the vehicle or door will expedite this process for everyone. Similar to locating your Uber or Lyft driver, the apps will offer a way for you to contact your driver and help you to locate the vehicle if at a location with a lot of traffic or cars pulling up. Since the entire transaction is handled on the app, there is no receipt to sign or fill out. You only need to take the food from the driver and enjoy.
Is Accessibility on the Menu?
This would not be a complete AccessWorld article without talking about the accessibility or lack thereof of the four apps. As I said earlier, I have successfully ordered a variety of items from all of these services with varying amounts of ease and frustration.
Uber Eats seems to be the one service that has intentionally paid attention to the accessibility of their mobile apps. On the iPhone, the app makes considerable use of custom actions in the VoiceOver rotor. This allows you to swipe right and left to move between restaurant categories and then swipe up and down to move through items in each category. This approach is a bit unconventional when compared to using headings and other simpler forms of navigation, but it was easy to follow once I got used to it. While the Android app lacks advanced navigation options (headings on a restaurant menu would be helpful), it too was not difficult to follow and ordering was simple, with all major buttons and controls labeled properly.
While I was able to order food from the other three services, they all exhibited a variety of accessibility quirks and took some time to get used to. DoorDash includes a variety of unlabeled buttons, and it was difficult to scroll around the list of restaurants. Grubhub on Android somehow managed to actually make the names of restaurants and food items hidden to screen reader users entirely, covering them up with useless text and descriptions. Postmates on the iPhone made it really difficult to browse among restaurants, with many scrolling and navigation issues present throughout. That being said, all of these services are usable with practice, and the availability of a restaurant or deal on a particular app may make it appealing on any given night.
All of these apps also feature websites where you can place an order instead. Here, Grubhub is the easiest to follow, and you can browse through restaurants and menu items using headings on your screen reader of choice. The DoorDash website also was relatively simple to use for browsing menus and ordering.
Another nice accessibility implication of these services is how they increase the availability of accessible restaurant menus. While not all menus will be 100 percent current or accurate, an online menu can go a long way to help you figure out what types of food are available from a restaurant and the expected price range. Thanks to these and other websites, I’ve now been able to flip the script and be the person reading the menu to the table at a restaurant instead of a sighted friend or colleague.
One area that could be improved for all of these services is the screen that shows the location of your driver. As might be expected, this is usually conveyed using a map, which is not usable for users who are blind or visually impaired. While the estimated delivery time is usually available, having a way to know where the driver is at any given time would improve the experience, especially when trying to direct them to a hard-to-find location.
Other Things to Chew On
While delivery services can offer extreme convenience, it's worth deciding if the added cost is worth it. I could have the sandwich shop that is four blocks from my house deliver my dinner, or spend five minutes walking each way and pick it up myself for much less money. It’s easy to get into a habit of letting food delivery replace grocery shopping, going out to eat, or even leaving the house at all. This can potentially lead to both social isolation and financial stress. On the flipside, these services can help people in cities with inadequate public transportation or few easily walkable options, and may make it easier to enjoy a wider variety of restaurants. For busy professionals or families, they can give you more time to get things done or to be with loved ones.
Wrapping Things Up
Delivery apps have expanded to towns and cities large and small, and are eager for your business. This has led to an opportunity to try new restaurants and cuisines and basically get just about anything you desire brought to your door. While the accessibility of most of these services could be spiced up, these apps can still go a long way to offering an easy answer to the question of “What’s for dinner?”
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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