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Greedy For Grub

Why Food Delivery is More Popular in NYC Than Ever

Food delivery has always been easy. Just pick up the phone and wait for the doorbell. These days, however, with the development of food delivery websites, even the phone stage has been eliminated. The possibility of food being sent straight to your door is now literally at your fingertips, and it is no wonder that Just Eat, a delivery site in the U.K., recently made a public offering of $600 million on the London Stock Exchange,while GrubHub and Seamless together are planning their Wall Street debut as well.

It seems that every restaurant in the city has the glowing red “Seamless” sticker on its glass doors. And these two companies going public proves just how popular the food delivery business has become. Online food delivery saves time and energy. There’s much less room for human error and no need to input your information more than once.

Furthermore, in a technological era in which groceries and movie tickets can be paid for via automated machines, it seems that ordering food from the Internet is only logical. And it’s no surprise that our generation is the group with whom these sites are most popular. Not only is there no social interaction required in the process of purchasing the food, there’s no need to leave the house and risk having to interact with someone along the way. Likewise, food delivery allows the person ordering to dine alone or with select people in the privacy of their home.

Akiko Iwamizu, a junior at Barnard College, orders from GrubHub twice a week via the company’s phone app.

“I like how the website notifies you when the order is received, when it’s being prepared, and when the delivery guy is being sent out,” Iwamizu says. “There’s no miscommunication—which is good, especially across language barriers—and the app saves my favorite foods. It’s like an ATM: Why would you go into the bank and have to deal with a person rather than using the machine?”

Curiously enough, this idea that people must be “dealt with” might explain why these services seem to resonate so well with New Yorkers. Ordering food by means of the Internet seems perfect for the New Yorker; there’s absolutely no need to try to be friendly to anyone, even over the phone.

In an interview with the New York Post, Nathan W. Pyle, artist and author of NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette, proclaims, “In New York, no one will think twice about looking at a man with a chicken on his head as long as they stay out of the way. But someone texting on the phone is going to be the worst person in the world if they’re just standing in the middle of the street.” With these priorities in mind, it seems perfectly reasonable that sites like Seamless would be popular in New York. Not having to go out in public means not bumping into inconveniences like slow walkers or long lines. Delivery offers not only efficiency, but also less agitation for New Yorkers who are constantly annoyed by people in their way.

Nevertheless, as John Skylar wrote in a 2013 Huffington Post New York article, “The one thing, though, that I’ve consistently heard from around the U.S. is that New York is a rude city. This is, I feel, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what this place is. New York is a massive city where most people have high-pressure jobs and their time is very precious. ... It affects the basic rules of politeness within New York to a degree that you might not expect.”

Similarly, Barnard professor of economics Homa Zarghamee points out that “New Yorkers are famous for long work hours, so there has already been a vibrant take-out culture in the city. But the online platform really facilitates the transaction,” he says.

In this case, delivery sites aren’t a new and shiny trend that has caught on, but a much-needed upgrade of an already fast-paced culture.

Zarghamee also speculates that food delivery probably caught on when people started using the Internet for extended periods of time. “The outing to the movies or bookstore or shopping area might have been topped off with a sit-down meal in a nearby restaurant...now more than ever that same outing is more likely to take place online, with the nearby restaurant one tab over,” Zarghamee says. “But the Internet makes it so we don’t have to leave our houses at all. Plus, these sites don’t even require you to pick up the phone and switch media. The energy expounded in picking up the phone and calling much outweighs the energy expounded in simply switching tabs.”

As residents of New York City become dependent on faster, easier delivery, restaurants have to upgrade to stay in the loop.

Zsuzsa Macchia, the manager of Maoz Vegetarian, declares fervently that as a restaurant, “You are a fool if you don’t use Seamless. They are the one delivery service that’s prominently visible in subways and on social media. For instance, they sold me these branded bags for $8 while a regular box of plastic bags might be $50. Who could say no?”

By holding such advertising power, Seamless attracts restaurants that need the business such branding could provide. Plus, as Macchia points out, “In New York, if you don’t deliver, you’re out of business. We don’t make that much on delivery orders anyway since we have to pay for manpower and utilities, and Seamless takes the least amount of our profit compared to other companies.” Seamless manages to make the deal sweet for both the customer and the food vendor. While the company’s success probably has a lot to do with its clever subway ads and low commission rates, it’s undeniable that it understands the needs of the city.

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