There’s no denying that delivery is a convenient alternative to dining out, but it also appeals to the bargain-conscious—especially in younger generations. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of 18- to 34-year-olds heavily factor delivery into their definition of a good restuarant value, according to Technomic.
But, as RB’s editors learned while testing six of the third-party delivery services available in Chicago, not every delivered meal is a bargain. With delivery fees, tipping, minimum charges and the straightforward price of the order, the tab can rise quickly to jaw-dropping levels. Indeed, the big question we asked ourselves while conducting our test: Was the convenience worth the cost?
Our experiences revealed the selection of the right third-party partner is critical to delivering value. Their costs to the customer are all over the board. Some offer significant discounts to new or frequent users, while others jack up the price during peak meal times. How do those variables figure into the overall perception of value?
Here are our assessments. By nature, editors tend to be cheap. To stay objective, we adopted a rating system that evaluated each of six restaurants (and their deliverers) using criteria spendthrifts and tightwads alike would regard as true measures of value. A score of 1 was the lowest, and 5 was the best.
Notice how, with most, the value score lines up pretty close to the score for the overall experience.
Concept: Cemitas Puebla (via DoorDash)
Meal: Two cemitas sandwiches
Perceived value: 4.5
Overall score: 4.75
The $22 bill included two sandwiches, the $4.99 services charge and a tip, and our testers were impressed with what they got for the money. The sandwiches were large and abundantly topped, plenty to constitute a meal.
But it was the little things that won us over. Three small containers of Cemitas’ signature sauces came packaged on the side, and napkins were stuffed in the bag, making the takeout experience very convenient (a benefit several testers said they’d be willing to pay for). One tester noted that a dine-in tab would be about the same, so the delivery-related charges didn’t feel like a gouging.
Concept: Nonna’s (via Postmates)
Meal: Meatball sub and chicken Parm sandwich with chips and soda
Perceived value: 3.5
Overall score: Just under 5
This was among the most expensive of the orders. A meal for one, which included a sandwich, chips and a drink, worked out to more than $20 per person—not so cheap for a restaurant that operates out of a takeout window.
Our testers agreed that the food itself was fairly and competitively priced. The sandwiches were very large, and the packaging made the experience feel upscale. The price tag on the food wasn’t the issue.
The big cost we didn’t necessarily agree with: the delivery fee. Nonna’s had the highest delivery fee, by far, due to Postmates’ surge pricing. At busier times when demand goes up—when consumers are most likely to order—the delivery price goes up, too. With a fee of more than $7, plus an added tip, we questioned whether or not the delivery itself was worth it.
Concept: Simply It (via Grubhub)
Meal: Two banh mi, plus an order of spring rolls and egg rolls
Perceived value: 2
Overall score: 3
As the only other concept that crossed the $40 threshold, the Asian concept also had the highest required minimum for delivery: $20. (In fact, most restaurants listed on Grubhub had similarly high minimums, compared to other third parties that listed anywhere from $10 to nothing.) While our testers felt that the $42 price tag for Nonna’s was a bit high, we could see the value in the packaging, food quality and quick speed. This meal, however, just felt overpriced. The food wasn’t hot, it wasn’t well-presented and it wasn’t anything unique.
Grubhub charged a $4 delivery fee plus a tip for the driver, not unlike most of the other services. But it was the only third party to hit the one-hour mark. When consumers are paying for convenience, the slower time—while not totally unreasonable—paled in comparison to the 25- to 35-minute experience of other services.
Concept: Big & Little’s (via Eat24)
Meal: Two shrimp banh mi po’boys
Perceived value: 4
Overall score: 4
Similar to the Cemitas Puebla pricing, the total cost included two sandwiches, a $4.99 delivery fee and a 15 percent tip. For a pretty large sandwich filled with seafood and veggies, we thought the price was fair for what we got, not much more than we’d pay in a restaurant for two similar sandwiches. One thing that would’ve helped the overall value, though—the ability to customize. That wasn’t an option for Big & Little’s.
The restaurant set a $10 minimum for delivery orders, which we easily hit with the two sandwiches. The menu does, however, feature several tacos in the $2 to $3 range. For an individual looking to order a few tacos for herself, it might be harder to reach.
Concept: WowBao (via UberEats)
Meal: Two chicken teriyaki boa, teriyaki rice bowl
Perceived value: 4
Overall score: 4
This was, by far, the least expensive meal we ordered. For comparison’s sake, though, it was two bao and a meat-topped rice bowl; less food than, say, two burgers with fries. But for what we paid, we thought it was filling, definitely worth the price.
With UberEats, it’s all about paying for speed, not any extra bells and whistles. Our testers were awe-struck that food showed up in four minutes. But the trade-off was that there is no customization (because the food is pre-prepared and waiting in a driver’s car to be handed off). And the meal choices are extremely limited—we ordered the only two options from Wow Bao available. But there’s no minimum and we didn’t see a delivery charge anywhere (it’s likely built into the cost of the food, we guessed).
Concept: Umami Burger (via Amazon Prime Now)
Meal: Umami burger and Manly burger with fries
Perceived value: 4
Overall score: 4
One big reason this meal felt like a great deal: Our tester received a $10-off promotional coupon right when she signed up. The food itself originally rang up to $27, but the total before tax was knocked down to $17, thanks to the discount. In the end, $25 for two burgers that were delivered warm and topped with premium ingredients is comparable to in-restaurant prices. The full price, though, would’ve been considered a little steep, knocking the value score below a four.
There was one feature that we dinged Amazon for, in terms of perception. Almost all of the third-party deliverers added a tip for the driver to the final bill. A few, however, had pop-up screens that gave users the choice to add 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent or another amount. Amazon didn’t give such an option. In fact, our tester didn’t think she was charged for gratuity at all, until she examined her e-receipt and realized $5 was tacked on, listed below the tax, just above the total. Most consumers don’t mind paying gratuity, but we didn’t love that it was buried in there, without any options.