The on-demand food delivery market is steadily growing and innovating, much like its rideshare cousin. While the jury is still out on who is the dominant rideshare giant, many freelancers, students, side-hustlers, and everyone in between have turned to these non-traditional job opportunities to support themselves. Like the rideshare economy, on-demand food delivery service jobs allow individuals to set their own hours, work at their own pace, and make a living as independent contractors.
But what does that mean for the more traditional industries? Restaurant owners are still expected to deliver food. Tech companies are still designing products for purchase that must run efficiently, while balancing the growing, ever-evolving needs of their clients. And at the end of the day, everybody still has to gather their W2s and pay taxes.
I sought out to create a fact-based analysis of Postmates, Doordash, Grubhub, and UberEATS, four of the most popular food ordering apps for restaurants. This is meant to serve as a guide for those in the foodservice industry, freelancing community, app design community, and anyone else interested in the human element in one of the many sectors in the on-demand economy. As a reminder, this is not a contest—merely an unbiased comparison so those parties interested can choose the right service, part-time employer, or management tool best for them and their needs.
From your restaurant to the dinner table, how does it work?
Regardless of which food ordering app you use or drive for, they all accomplish the same goal: food from point A arrives at point B with the same quality you’d expect if it were ordered and eaten all in one place. Of course, the logistics behind getting food from A to B varies depending on the service used. When starting a food delivery business, you might want to consider your company’s budget and scope before choosing one of these services.
Drivers are given a corporate debit card to pay for meals on customers’ behalf. For most drivers, the debit card is Postmates-branded and given a unique alphanumeric ID number. More active drivers are assigned cards with their actual names. These cards are used for larger orders non-specific to food deliveries, such as a pick-up and delivery from the Apple Store.
The Postmates debit card is preloaded to a rounded number higher than the actual cost of a customer’s order. For example, according to an online Postmates resource, if a customer’s order comes out to $27.99, the Postmates card will be preloaded with $40. The corporate card gives drivers a feeling of flexibility and allows them to place orders before arriving at a restaurant. Additionally, if the prices at a restaurant are vastly different than in the app, or the customer requests more items be added to an order, drivers can request more funds through the Postmates app. Extra funds will be preloaded onto the card, and drivers can continue to make requests for more if needed.
At one point, Postmates restricted debit card usage based on the GPS location of the driver to control abuse and fraud. However, restrictions were quickly rolled back when GPS locations were slow to update or otherwise inaccurate, causing more issues than they solved. Customers may also place orders on their own, which are then sent via tablet to partner restaurants and assigned to drivers. Previously, this system would show drivers an ETA for food preparation, which allowed time-savvy drivers to do some other side-hustling in between food deliveries. Unfortunately, that feature has since been removed.
Restaurant owners may also use a third-party API to make use of Postmates drivers for delivery orders. In this format, customers aren’t always aware that drivers are independent contractors and not employees of the restaurant they’re ordering from. Drivers have reported that some customers are frustrated after they realize their tip is going to the restaurant and not the driver.
UberEATS uses a fairly simple format. Orders are always prepaid and pre-made long before a driver arrives—in theory, at least.
In actuality, UberEATS works by allowing customers to place an order through the app to be picked up by a driver. Even though the order should be prepared and good to go upon the driver’s arrival at a restaurant, that’s often not the case. Instead, drivers are forced to wait around while a meal’s still prepared. Though drivers must wait, it’s an attempt to guarantee customers receive hot, freshly-made food.
UberEATS also uses a “closed-bag” philosophy. Orders are not opened or inspected by drivers; meals are handed from the restaurant to the driver, then from the driver to the customer. Through this method, UberEATS absolves drivers of the responsibility to check that orders are correct and nothing’s been forgotten or missed.
Doordash works by pinging drivers with the location of a restaurant and destination, then calculates the distance between each point (including the driver’s current location). At the restaurant, the DoorDash driver will be presented with one of three situations:
- Pick up the food and go
- Pay for the order using the Doordash company card
- Place the order and wait until it’s ready
Grubhub isn’t strictly a delivery service, per se, though it has merged with and absorbed such services as Seamless and Yelp’s Eat24. Grubhub began in 2004 as an alternative to paper menus, which allowed the company to establish partnerships and build relationships with restaurants.
If a restaurant does not already have delivery drivers, they may make use of Grubhub’s fleet of independent contractors, similar to how Doordash, Postmates, and UberEATS work.
The idea is for drivers to arrive at a restaurant as food preparation is completed. Then, the food is placed in a branded and insulated bag and sent on its way to be delivered. Grubhub’s proprietary technology allows restaurants and customers to track the estimated delivery time for a meal.
Drivers may elect to schedule themselves in “blocks” of time, similar to a more traditional job. A block is essentially a guarantee that a driver’s available to pick up and deliver orders. Drivers may deliver outside of a block, but Grubhub prioritizes scheduled drivers and qualifies them for more work and higher earnings potential.
If a driver’s working outside of a block, any deliveries not assigned to other drivers will be up for grabs. Drivers may pick up and drop blocks as they see fit based on their Program Level.