Future of food: Lobster mac 'n' cheese ... for delivery
Pizza or Chinese, anyone?
Those were the two options when thinking about food delivery in town up until last year.
Now, with the dawn of smartphone applications like GrubHub, Vroom and UberEats, residents can get anything delivered to their doorsteps — at the touch of their fingertips.
Gone are the days of standing in line to order a burger and milkshake at Prime Burger — it can be delivered, thanks to GrubHub. Ditto for fried calamari at Ancient Mariner, which goes from kitchen to home through Vroom. And then there’s the pulled pork sandwich at Little Pub — all one needs is UberEats on one’s iPhone, and presto — it can be dropped off within minutes.
Times are a-changin’
Apps have been taking over the food delivery market in major cities for half a decade now, and — slowly but surely — arrived in Ridgefield in 2016.
The trend continues to grow at an irreversible pace, and as a result, Italian and Asian restaurants are feeling the consequences — losing their decade-long stranglehold over the delivery business.
“I’m sure every delivery I don’t get is a delivery I potentially lost, but you can’t do anything about it,” said Planet Pizza owner Domenic Farago.
While a Twitter poll The Press conducted earlier this week indicates that most residents still prefer the old-fashioned method of calling to place an order, a growing number of clients — and restaurants — are using the variety of apps at their disposal.
And those who haven’t adapted yet might do so sooner rather than later.
Barbara Nevins, owner of Southwest Cafe, is open to the idea. She told The Press this week that her business’s take-out sales are strong, but they tried a delivery service years ago without much success.
“We were not able to sustain it taking all the percentages from the customers and the restaurant,” she said.
“It didn’t seem to work out back then, but hopefully this does. I’m open to any kind of business.”
Of the choices available, it seems that the most popular app among restaurants in town is GrubHub.
Little Pub and Thali are the only ones that use UberEats, the transportation app’s food delivery line.
Compared to UberEats, which charges restaurants 30% from each sale and the user between $5 and $7 per delivery, GrubHub rates are more affordable to both the customer and the establishment.
Its business model allows the restaurant to choose the percentage it will give to the application in exchange for higher exposure, while client pays a standard $2 delivery fee.
Doug Grabe, owner of Little Pub, said GrubHub doesn’t have a delivery feature for his location yet, and that’s why he went with UberEats.
“I’ve talked to them [GrubHub], I signed up for it, but they pulled the plug on delivery in the area,” he said.
One of the reasons GrubHub has gained popularity among local eateries is because it can work with the restaurant’s own drivers — which is key in the Ridgefield market, where restaurants often employ high schools students wanting to make some extra cash.
The transition has allowed businesses that had a delivery component before the smartphone boom, like Planet Pizza, Toozy Patza Pizza, Piccolo Pizza and Pasta, Gyro on Pita, Dimitri’s, Prime Burger, and John’s Best Pizza, to continue using the same drivers.
Ancient Mariner and Tigers’ Den, as well as a number of Danbury and Bethel restaurants, deliver to Ridgefield via Vroom — a Fairfield County-based delivery service that contracts independent drivers to pick up food from affiliated restaurants.
“The problem with personalities at the door, if you’re not employing them,” said Planet Pizza’s Farago, “is that you don’t know who they are and you don’t know if they’re going to treat the customers right.”
Out of town
Prime Burger has seen a boost in out-of-town sales since getting on GrubHub.
“We deliver to Redding, South Salem, North Salem, and Wilton,” said manager Anthony Valente. “It’s a pretty good range.”
Getting out-of-towners to eat Prime Burger means more exposure.
“Outside deliveries are tremendous for business. You can spend thousands of dollars on advertising, but there’s no price on word of mouth,” Valente said.
Although GrubHub is more affordable than UberEats, businesses still take a hit to their profits.
Valente said it’s part of a business that thrives by getting ahead of its local competitors, and building customer satisfaction pays in other ways.
“It’s all about customer service,” he said. “In this business, you have to do everything you can — there’s so much competition in town.”
The app has allowed Prime Burger to break into the delivery market.
“It’s a hot thing now, and it’s good for us,” he said.
“We deliver burgers, lobster rolls … nobody is doing that. We had to get on board with this delivery.”
He believes the model is here to stay, although as the number of available applications increases, so does competition among them, which will eventually force them to come up with better rates.
“It’s a young community here; this ain’t Florida. This is a hip town with young families,” he said.
“They are who this whole thing is geared toward.”
‘The long haul’
Little Pubs of Greenwich, Fairfield, and Wilton have seen a huge soar in UberEats deliveries.
“We turned on UberEats in Greenwich, and it lit up in 30 seconds,” said owner Grabe. “Same thing in Fairfield and Wilton.”
Although significantly less in Ridgefield, Grabe said, the app does get some traction.
“Someone coming to deliver fish tacos or lobster mac ’n’ cheese used to be a weird thing to think about, but it’s becoming more and normal,” he said.
Grabe noted that the Little Pub in town still gets significantly more calls for takeout than UberEats deliveries.
Even though food delivery apps are expensive, he believes it’s definitely the present — and possibly the future.
“It’s the cost of doing business,” he said. “With Uber, you want to be on their platform — and that’s the price of admission.
“Yeah it’s expensive, but we’re trying to make people happy,” he added. “It’s not about a single transaction; we’re in it for the long haul. We’ll do whatever we can to make our customers happy.”