I don’t know exactly what I want my last meal on earth to be, but I know that I want to eat it at home. While others fantasize about spending their final moments sipping wine in Bordeaux, making their way through the chef’s tasting menu at Per Se, or evading authorities while flying across the globe on a farewell gustatory tour, I dream of devouring my favorite dishes off a TV tray as a program plays in the background, my pajamas grow increasingly tight around the waist, and my cat lounges lovingly by my side.
More often than not that dream is my reality, because I’m addicted to food delivery apps. They say that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, but I’m not here for that. I’m here to shout about my devotion from the digital rooftops — to express the requisite twinge of guilt and mortification and then defend my choices against the hordes who want to tell me how to live.
Those hordes aren’t nameless or faceless. They’re my colleagues, my family members, my friends. And with few exceptions, they’re at best bemused and at worst deeply concerned about how often I pay strangers to bring meals to my doorstep. How, they ask, can I justify incurring such hefty delivery fees? Why, they wonder, don’t I crave the ambiance and piping-hot freshness that comes from dining out? When, they gently inquire, was the last time I felt the sun on my skin?
Only one person truly understands: Adam, my doting husband and chief enabler. He knows the thrill of having an entire city’s worth of culinary experiences at his fingertips, grasps the power of tapping a few buttons and seeing our wishes realized. And how could he not, when he’s the one who actually places all of the orders?
And please understand: There have been a fair few orders. We’ve lived in Los Angeles for 1,254 days — and we’ve ordered food from Postmates, Caviar, or LAbite 705 times.
Like nearly every other aspect of modern-day life, delivery has gone digital. Just this week, McDonald’s executives informed investors that the fast food giant would begin to "rely heavily on delivery to reignite sales," according to Bloomberg. The article mentioned that McDonald’s "has been working with Postmates Inc., Uber Technologies Inc.’s UberEats, and Foodpanda," and also "named other delivery services, such as Grubhub Inc., during its presentation." Senior vice president Lucy Brady, Bloomberg reported, said that "restaurant delivery is a $100 billion market and it’s exploded. There’s significant opportunity that we haven’t even tapped into yet."
Though the figure Brady cites is eye-popping, it’s actually dwarfed by other estimates: A September 2016 Business Insider examination titled "The On-Demand Meal Delivery Report" claimed that at the time, Morgan Stanley Research put the industry’s "total addressable market (TAM)" at $210 billion. The exact makeup of the market varies state to state and city to city, but whether Grubhub, Seamless, Postmates, or another startup is the heavy hitter in a given area, the pattern holds: Third-party delivery providers are enhancing discovery for diners and scalability for restaurants.
"The competitive landscape is different in every city, but we provide the most choice in the 44 metropolitan markets we operate in," a Postmates spokesperson says via email before citing still another figure: "The industry is over $275B, so there is room for many players."
One of those players is the relatively young Caviar, whose spokesperson Catherine Ferdon says via email that "the proliferation of apps and the on-demand economy makes it easier than ever for customers to get what they want at the push of a button, and businesses are working harder than ever to meet the needs of their customers."
Adam and I are among that customer base now, though we once lived a more traditional delivery life. During our New York days we were aware that things called "Grubhub" and "Seamless" existed, but we never really considered what those services had to offer. We were creatures of habit. Though we dabbled with FreshDirect come grocery time, we remained content with ordering breakfast, lunch, and dinner from our neighborhood spots. If a restaurant was outside of our delivery zone, we’d eat there rarely or not at all, based on a delicate calculus of whether our desire to sample certain goods or our aversion to putting on real pants proved more indomitable at a given moment.
Local dining establishments became key parts of the fabric of our lives. I’m certain that during our three-and-a-half years together in Hell’s Kitchen, I saw the delivery folks from the regrettably since-shuttered Delta Grill more than I saw every member of my immediate family combined. During our year-and-a-half stint in Battery Park City, we spent more time asking Zucker’s to make the turkey bacon on our breakfast bagels extra crispy than we did planning our wedding (much to my mother’s chagrin). We ordered often, and we found comfort in our routines, yet we longed for the ability to stretch further afield without physically stretching beyond our living room. In New York, delivery made a big city feel small.
In Los Angeles, delivery makes a big city feel boundless — though we didn’t discover that right away. What we discovered on our first night in the City of Angels, at the tail end of September 2013, was fear. We moved into our downtown temporary corporate housing and began dialing nearby joints only to learn that few restaurants were open at what any transplanted New Yorker would consider a reasonable hour and that fewer still delivered. We’d uprooted our lives in pursuit of my dream job, but had we done so at the expense of easily attainable pizza? Eventually we stumbled upon an unmemorable corner cafe willing to bring me a bagel. It tasted like sadness. I hugged my cat, Halo. Adam resolved to find a solution the next day.
His frantic research led him to LAbite, a browser-based food delivery tool. On October 1, 2013, we placed our first order. We can’t confirm the location, because an LAbite system change means that we can view a detailed order history from only March 2015 on (fear not: we can confirm our total number of orders), but we feel close to certain that we first selected Border Grill. We’d watched proprietors Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken on Top Chef Masters, and when we saw their restaurant listed in our downtown L.A. delivery zone, we were determined to sample the churro tots posthaste.
The tots were divine, and so was the experience: no frustrating phone call with a restaurant employee struggling to make out our selections over the dining room din; no mystery over how long it would be until our food arrived; no awkward cash counting at the door. We clicked on the items we wanted, tracked our order’s progress online, and said a quick "thank you" upon receiving the food for which a credit-card transaction had already gone through. It was clean and painless and delicious. The service became our gateway drug for third-party delivery.
After three-plus weeks downtown, we moved into our first L.A. home: an apartment in Mid-City, an area rife with culinary delights, but also Southern California’s signature traffic. Living in a second neighborhood so soon helped us quickly grasp how much L.A. had to offer, but also how vast and sprawling the city really was. We were in turns titillated and intimidated. We were also trying to balance demanding new jobs and wedding planning, and we quickly realized that the only thing more precious than a perfect 72-degree day was time to chill on the couch. We’re homebodies by nature, appreciative of the many wonders the world has to offer, but typically even more appreciative of a quiet evening in front of the boob tube. Life is full of trade-offs, but LAbite, which launched in 2001 and brands itself as "the local one," helped us explore the food scene in our new home without actually leaving our new home. We could cuddle with Halo, chip away at the DVR backlog, and put in some evening work hours while still sampling a wider variety of restaurants than New York’s suffocating delivery zone restrictions had allowed.
For months, we were content. We earned points on our orders and turned them into Amazon gift cards (which we eventually put toward a new TV that we watch while eating meals from LAbite). When my mom came to L.A. to catsit during our honeymoon in June 2014, we had one recommendation: Stay home with the little guy and use LAbite to fetch every meal.
The magic never wore off, exactly, and LAbite remains in our regular rotation to this day thanks to the ease of hitting "re-order" on some of our most frequented haunts: Ago trattoria (our second-most frequented spot across all providers), Vito’s Pizza (top five), and the Indian Kitchen (top 10). But while those favorites remain in our lives, we came to realize that there was a cap on the functionality and level of discovery that the service could provide. In August 2014, we fell under a new spell: Adam had read about a delivery service called Caviar, and this company offered something that LAbite did not — an app. We both downloaded it to our phones: me to browse, him to place and manage the orders, a division of labor that suits me quite swimmingly and that he continues to put up with for reasons that I’ll never fully understand. The on-demand lifestyle is about ease of use, and nothing’s easier than letting someone else do everything for you. I can’t in good faith compare myself to Corinne … but Adam is definitely my Raquel.
The app was a game-changer. There were beautiful photos of each dish; clearly presented delivery time estimates for every place in our zone; push notifications providing updates on orders we placed; most-popular labels to help inform our decisions; order tallies to remind us what we like best at each restaurant. Best of all, the app featured a slew of places not available on LAbite thanks to Caviar’s mission of partnering directly with restaurants not already offering delivery. Caviar struck us as a tool for foodies and techies alike, and that’s by design: In 2014, e-commerce company Square acquired Caviar for a reported $90 million. "Caviar’s foundation is in food, as we have always partnered directly with the best restaurants and the technology we develop for our partners helps make delivery easier for diners and businesses alike," Ferdon says, adding that "being part of Square enables us to access more resources than many other delivery companies in the space."
We kept LAbite in our hearts but downgraded it to sidepiece status while taking Caviar as our wife. And then, in April 2015, a new mistress arrived after I heard a colleague casually mention getting pizza delivered from Mozza on Highland and Melrose to his home in Silver Lake. What was this wizardry? What service would travel that far? The answer was Postmates, an industry disruptor founded in 2011 with a simultaneously simple and sweeping goal: to do everything. "Postmates’ mission is to be the local delivery infrastructure in all major cities in the world," the company spokesperson says, adding, "Postmates offers the most choice. Because we deliver from anywhere, customers can order from any merchant, whether that’s a restaurant or their local shoe store."
Choice. Isn’t that what we all want out of life? Beginning with the first order we placed, from Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, we were hopelessly intoxicated by the sheer possibility Postmates provided. Some menus were programmed right into the app, leading to an ease of use on par with any competitor. The orders that were harder to place were more liberating, because they represented how few limits the service really had: If a given establishment’s menu wasn’t in the database, we could add in a custom order by hand. The drivers would go anywhere, from down the block to down to Santa Monica. Caviar offered a charmingly precise, curated experience, but Postmates was the Wild West, bringing more risk but also more opportunity.
Postmates opened Los Angeles to us in a way that nothing had before, which was both a wonderful and terrible thing, because the delivery fees stretch along with the distance, and surge pricing during peak hours (a la Uber) can send an already-steep total into the stratosphere. Choice is costly, but so far, we’ve been willing to pay. Nearly one year after we began using the service, we got this order report:
And we haven’t slowed: Since we placed that initial Roscoe’s order 679 days ago, we’ve used Postmates 313 times.
This obsession delivers awkwardness as well as food, but we’ve come to wear our shame with good humor, even pride.
Consider: I asked the Postmates spokesperson to sketch out the behavior of a loyal app user. The reply: "Customer retention is extremely high. … For Postmates customers who have used the app more than once, frequency increases over time — after six months of using the app, customers use Postmates 3–4 times per month (almost weekly; it’s become a habit); our Unlimited subscribers use the app 7+ times per month." Unlimited is the company’s paid subscription service that "remove[s] delivery and service fees," according to the company. (We don’t use it: I say it’s because we’ve been too lazy to sign up; Adam swears he’s not sure the math works in our favor given which restaurants are included in the program.)
The 314 orders we’ve placed on Postmates since we began using the service 22 months ago net out to more than 14 orders per month — more than double the typical total for users the Postmates spokesperson says "order all of the time."
And that’s just Postmates: Factor in our totals from Caviar (141 orders since August 9, 2014), LAbite (250 since October 1, 2013), and the occasional interloper service (Adam estimates that we’ve tacked on 15 or so total deliveries from DoorDash; Seamless; direct from pizza places Lucifers and Mozza2Go; and an indulgence or two that we’ve surely lost track of over time) and the math is so eye-popping that bashfulness gives way to a sense of sincere achievement: Add the estimated 15 to the confirmed 705 from the Big Three, and all told, we’ve placed delivery orders on 57.4 percent of the days we’ve lived in L.A.
Setting and maintaining that pace has required making peace with routinely violating social norms. Part of the reason my colleagues are so concerned about our delivery habits is because we frequently have some version of the following exchange:
Well-meaning colleague: You’ve got to try Restaurant Whateveritiscalled.
Me: Oh, that’s one of our favorites! Had it just the other night.
WMC: Did you have any trouble parking?
Me: The only person who had to park was our Postmates driver.
This very week, I had the pleasure of editing Katie Baker’s beautiful feature on Guelaguetza, a restaurant that Adam and I have ordered from on Caviar five times, but have yet to visit in person (despite my prior work commute taking me right by the Olympic Boulevard location every day for two-plus years). Some might wonder how we could possibly forego soaking up the vibrant, fragrant atmosphere (and, as importantly, the assorted mezcal), but we don’t look at it that way: I’ve got stories to edit, and programs to watch, and a cat to love. My default position is "I’m not leaving my home." More often than not, it’s not a matter of eating here vs. eating there; it’s a matter of eating here vs. not eating at all. This technology has allowed me to discover pieces of L.A. that the basic rhythms of my life might otherwise not.
You may think that sounds like rationalizing, and it obviously is. But again: I’m rationalizing for you. I’m happy with this life! Lukshon, one of our three favorite restaurants, is the rare place we frequent in person, mostly because it’s our go-to move when friends or family visit. The service is great. The fire pit is lovely. The beer selection is superb. And yet when we discovered it on Postmates in 2016, we ordered it nearly every week. (And damn if the crab fried rice didn’t hold up close to perfectly.) We hit nine deliveries before Lukshon vanished from the app. While I don’t know specifically what happened in Lukshon’s case, the Postmates spokesperson says that in general, "If a restaurant doesn’t want to be on the platform, they just need to let us know and we’ll remove them." Caviar’s Ferdon offers a similar glimpse into the company’s policy: "Restaurants always have the option to exit any partnership with us too."
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I shed a tear. Adam did some of his trademark research (read: Googled it) and found that Lukshon had moved to DoorDash. We created an account. How could we not? When we tried to maintain the Friday night tradition the following week, a message popped up saying we were out of the delivery zone. The loss stings to this day. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still taste the sliver of prawn on the tea leaf salad.
But one of the best things about the on-demand economy is that there’s always something to replace what you just lost. And while the Lukshon binge was fierce while it lasted, it never came close to surpassing our most-frequented destination: Blue Plate Oysterette, which rose to the top of our Caviar (and overall) pecking order due to its consistent quality and proximity. Good and fast is a precious combo — so precious that we ordered from Blue Plate 54 times before the Third Street location shuttered in December. I miss the clam chowder, which I ordered 40-plus times, so much that I’m considering requesting some from the still-open Santa Monica location.
It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve hailed a meal from the left coast: We got a taste of the Bay Cities meatballs at an office holiday party a couple of years ago, and determined that we had to sample them again, and as soon as possible. Mercifully, we found the Italian deli on Postmates; less mercifully, we discovered that the delivery fees from across L.A. are … extreme. Here is an actual receipt from an actual order:
Yes, that’s a surge-price-inflated delivery fee that’s more than the cost of the actual order. No, it was not the last time we partook in Bay Cities.
Sometimes, though, the close places are the ones that force us to really look inward. In parsing our order history, Adam discovered that our closest delivery was from Republique, a mere 0.5 miles from our home, an easy, dare-I-say pleasant walk, and yet a brunch order we placed four times before the restaurant fell off Postmates.
The p.m. proximity red flags are even more alarming. We’ve ordered from the Mission Cantina 10 times and Roscoe’s 27. Those totals alone might shock you, but they’re the appetizer. Here’s the meal: The Mission Cantina is 0.1 miles from my office, Roscoe’s 0.2.
Postmates doesn’t actually fetch our Roscoe’s orders from the location near my office on Gower; the Pico branch is closer to our home — though it’s damn sure not as close as the Gower one is to my body every single weekday. Occasionally, we’ll order from Roscoe’s or the Mission Cantina on weekends or after I’ve been home for a while. Far more often, however, I’ll text Adam as I’m leaving my desk and ask him to place the order so that it arrives right when I do. Why don’t I just call in the orders, pick them up, and save the delivery fee? Well friends, every second I’m waiting around for pickup is one second I’m not building you this website — or preparing to dine with this guy:
I recognize that this is not normal behavior, but it’s become normal to me in part because it’s not a purely Epicurean pursuit. We live in a labyrinthian apartment complex that’s defeated its share of drivers, yielding a few "Please come to the front gate" submissions and more calls and texts begging for instructions. Adam is always the one fielding the calls, always the one throwing on flip-flops to rescue the misguided. Like any great love, our affair with food delivery apps has its pitfalls, but when we pop open the lid on the bucatini from Jon & Vinny’s (from which we’ve ordered 42 times, third most among L.A. establishments) it’s a love that’s still too sweet to abandon.
I had no trouble abandoning my post at Ye Rustic Inn in Los Feliz following a post-work gathering in 2015, deciding the moment I climbed into my car that I wanted more of the chicken wings. Did I walk back in and grab a dozen to go? I think you know me better than that by now, dear reader. I called Adam and asked him to look up the bar on Postmates. He ordered immediately, the delivery man barely trailing me on the way home. We’ve ordered 12 times since.
Sometimes, we want to wash down our meals with a snack, which is how we’ve come to place 10 orders from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Los Feliz. The near-daily sunshine is one of the chief joys of life in Los Angeles, where ice cream is a year-round reality instead of an occasional indulgence. We haven’t sampled them yet, but I hear good things about Milk, and Sweet Rose Creamery, and Carmela, and I look forward to one day asking Adam to tap his phone a few times so that I can receive a carton of their finest frozen goods. There’s something soothing about knowing that in this city, thanks to this technology, there’s so much instantly available to me and yet still so much more to explore.
For now, though, we’re partial to Jeni’s, which Postmates allows us to treat like our corner scoop shop even though it’s 6.1 miles away. The listeria history might scare away some would-be patrons, the threat of meltage the rest. But not us: We’re trying to bring every bit, and every bite, of this massive metropolis into our kitchen, and so we order at least six pints every time.
If you’re wondering why we don’t just fetch our ice cream from the grocery store like almost everyone else, well: I haven’t told you about our Instacart habit yet.