What’s the point of having restaurant food delivered at home? Online takeaway ordering schemes have exploded. Cyclists with insulated backpacks of food snake in and out of rush-hour traffic. No need to venture out to the restaurant of your choice, now the restaurant comes to you, at all hours of the day and night.
I suppose my resistance boils down to the fact that I actively enjoy eating out. It’s not only the food that I relish, it’s also the buzz and ‘theatre’ of dining out, maybe dressing up a bit, marking a celebration, or simply winding down on a Friday night.
Canvassing opinion of people who do use these websites hasn’t converted me. They report problems with the wrong dishes coming, of food that’s swathed in layers of steamy packaging, but barely hot enough to eat. And then their phone or computer is bombarded with ads forever after.
Scrolling through these delivery sites online, it seems to me that you pay pretty much the same price as going to the restaurant once you’ve factored in the delivery charge.
So what are you actually gaining by getting a home delivery? Speed is one notional benefit – a 30-minute time frame is typical – but these slots are estimates, not guarantees. If your meal doesn’t appear, you are left with the joy of filling in an online feedback form, or venting your annoyance on the customer ratings part of the website. Meanwhile, I keep seeing headlines about couriers for certain delivery companies threatening strike action because they’re paid by delivery, not by the hour, and so can end up earning less than the minimum wage, and they get no benefits, such as holiday pay.
If couriers have issues with these schemes, what of the restaurants? Twice in the last year while I’ve been waiting too long for food to arrive in a restaurant, I’ve noticed a steady stream of orders being handed over from the kitchen to waiting couriers. Delivery schemes hook restaurants in with the promise of another stream of revenue, but if fewer people eat on the premises, they can easily start looking like ailing operations. Some restaurants are withdrawing from such schemes because, despite the publicity they gain through online exposure, they find that after they pay the initial joining fees, and then the broker’s cut on every meal, they aren’t building up overall trade long term.
For the home diner, I can’t help thinking that regular home deliveries encourage a slobbish laziness. You needn’t bother looking presentable to go out, you can just sit on the couch in your onesie as you eat from cartons and play with your phone. I’m not saying that there aren’t occasions when a home delivery is a boon – for instance, when you’ve been doing DIY all day and no-one has had time to buy ingredients to cook. But I’m just happy with the traditional culinary distinction: either cook at home or have the buzzy fun of going out to eat. Home cooking and restaurant cooking are two distinct worlds, and each has its own charms. Why blur them?
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Good Food contributing editor Joanna is an award-winning journalist who has written about food for 25 years. She is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4.