Getting your ramen fix can be pricey
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Used to be, a restaurant hired a delivery driver or it didn’t. Nowadays, a number of enterprising tech companies have made online restaurant ordering and delivery a business model in its own right. In the past year I’ve written about my experiences ordering Thai food using Bringittome and Eat24, both of which use a standard e-commerce-style interface to let you order from the menus of restaurants that enlist with the service. Eat24 was bought by Yelp a couple months back, further streamlining your lazy, stay-at-home cravings by allowing you to search for a favorably reviewed restaurant and then demand its food be brought to you without even opening another browser window.

Each service had its glitches, the sort of miscommunications bound to occur when your human speak is translated to computer speak and then back again in the kitchen of a busy restaurant. But I got my requested food, more or less, through easy-to-understand ordering systems. The chief difference was the list of available restaurants in each web app’s roster.

Each of these services works via smart phone app as well, which is how I initially discovered grubHub a few years back. One of the early entrants into the eDelivery marketplace, I figured I should give it a shot for review, especially considering I could order from one of my favorite ramen spots, Tajima.

It starts out typically enough — you enter your home address and request delivery, and the app returns a list of restaurant options. Click through to the menu and select your choices, linking to any add-on options (in this case I requested kakuni pork belly and vegetables as topping for my spicy sesame ramen bowl).

My confusion started with the delivery fee. All of these services charge a fee, usually ranging from $3 to $7, depending on the restaurant. GrubHub’s stated delivery charge for Tajima was $4.99 + 8% on a $20 minimum order. So I ordered a second ramen for my roommate. Our food total then amounted to $29, delivery fee $7.31, with $2.90 in sales tax. I was told to expect a 60-70 minute wait.

This night, Tajima happened to run out of the gluten-free noodles my roomie had requested. Of course, the restaurant couldn’t tell me this directly. Instead, I received a call from what I assumed was a grubHub employee, who asked me what I wanted to do and promised to relay my instructions to the restaurant. Not exactly the most efficient process, and I’m certain it added at least five minutes to my wait time.

The case of the increased sales tax. The 8% upcharge is a little easier to understand.

The case of the increased sales tax. The 8% upcharge is a little easier to understand.

Nevertheless, my ramen arrived and I ate splendidly. It was only later, upon checking my email, that I noticed order confirmations from both grubHub and Bringittome and was able to unravel what had really happened: grubHub subcontracted Bringittome to do the work, and that was Bringittome on the phone. When I took a second look at, there was Tajima, ready to order with a mere $15 minimum and a $4.99 charge.

Grubhub tacked on 8% and increased the minimum to give that 8% more worth. As if that weren’t offensive enough, when I set up the exact same order through Bringittome, the order total remained the same, but the sales tax came to $2.72, 18 cents less than grubHub charged.

I don't know what this grubby service did to deserve the extra $2.32 delivery fee or why they added 18 cents in additional sales tax, but it clearly puts the kibosh on my patronage. Web ordering and delivery creates a software middleman, which solves some problems and creates others. Adding a second middleman solves no problems but can create additional ones, and for additional cost. If anything, the Bringittome interface worked better than grubHub’s. I’m not sure whether either could be considered a reputable business, but it’s clear to me now, grubHub can go the way of eToys and — I certainly won’t be back.

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Ponzi April 18, 2015 @ 7:55 a.m.

Restaurant delivery has been around for decades. The phone app doesn't really make it any easier than just calling up directly and placing an order. All these new middlemen apps are just more attempts by greedy venture capital firms to show cash flow before an IPO that makes them all rich at the expense of the customer, shareholder and restaurants reputations.


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