Convenience Driving Food Delivery Mania

Convenience Driving Food Delivery Mania

Delivery is hot right now, with Taco Bell announcing Wednesday it’s bringing tacos, burritos and other Mexican-inspired fare to the doorsteps of customers in some 200 locations around the United States.

The fast-food chain is the latest addition to an already long list of quick-service giants that offer delivery — including Starbucks, Chipotle, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. And it underscores an increasingly apparent truth about what Americans want from their food.

Yes, people want the food they buy to be cheap, but there’s actually something that matters more to people than price: convenience.

The delivery bug, after all, hasn’t been exclusive to the fast-food world. People have become conditioned to expect Amazon to deliver practically anything to them. Third-party companies such as Seamless and Postmates, which partner with food purveyors to deliver meals for a small fee, have come to define the lunch food scene in big cities by making all kinds of food available. And new, delivery-only restaurants, such as Maple and Savory, are taking it a step further, doubling down on the notion that what people want, more than anything else, is convenience.

“It’s very widespread,” said Mary Chapman, who is a senior director of product innovation at restaurant market research firm Technomic. “And it touches tons of different price points.”

To say that delivery is something entirely new is to forget that pizza shops, such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut, have been ringing doorbells for decades. So too have Chinese restaurants, Chapman reminds.

But there is something unique about the way in which the most convenient form of restaurant service is spreading. The reason it is becoming more prevalent isn’t merely because people want it — many, it turns out, actually need it. “The reality is that, for many people today, time is more valuable than dollars,” Chapman said. “That’s even true for people who don’t have very many dollars. And, you know, that has a pretty sizable impact.”

Families are working more than ever. More than 60 percent of households are now supported by two working parents, according to the latest government data, which is the highest reading on record.

The less time people have to sit down at restaurants, leave home to pick up dinner or even cook at home, the more convenience hovers over decisions about food, especially when there is an option that only requires a brief interaction with a screen.

“Price is important because if you can’t afford it, you can’t buy it, but convenience is the one thing that’s really changing trends these days,” said Howard Telford, an industry analyst at market research firm Euromonitor.

The rise of delivery isn’t, however, only a matter of necessity. Many people are simply willing to pay a premium to eat restaurant-quality food without leaving the comforts of their home or nibble through a Gordita Crunch without getting up from the cushions of their couch.

“It’s really a combination of the two things — convenience and laziness,” Chapman said. “Jimmy John’s, for instance, delivers an awful lot of sandwiches to college campuses. Is it because students are really busy or because they don’t feel like putting in more effort? I’d say both.”

What many people might not realize is that the ascent of delivery is something a lot of restaurants actually welcome. At establishments that are normally dependent on dinner, services such as Seamless help boost lunchtime sales. At outlets such as Chipotle, however, where sales drag at dinnertime, the opposite is true: Delivery is something of a savior.

“You can only put so many people through your line of drive-through,” Chapman said. “That’s even truer for sit-down restaurants.”

There’s also the growing sense that customers tend to order more food when they don’t have to order in person — especially when they do it online. People, perceiving less judgment, let go.

“They have the same choices as before, but they’re removing the social transaction costs,” Ryan McDevitt, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business who studied ordering habits over a four-year period, told the Wall Street Journal in 2012. “From my own personal experience, I feel more comfortable ordering something online than at the counter.”

Author: Roberto A. Ferdman The Washington Post

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