New food delivery services in the Bay Area continue to launch. Can they compete with companies like DoorDash?

Bay Area diners have never had more options for ordering food at their favorite restaurant.

These new companies are different from on-demand delivery apps like DoorDash and Grubhub, which deliver hot food to customers within miles of restaurants. They typically sell cold dishes, which customers buy a day or more in advance, and bring them straight to homes or to pickup centers in small towns with less diverse dining scenes like Mill Valley and Lafayette.

Additionally, restaurateurs say they enjoy working with these newcomers as they tend to charge a lower commission than dominant third-party apps – typically around 10-15% – and the pre-order model allows for logistical flexibility.

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Huiming Zhang, warehouse packager at Bentocart, packs a box with meals in the Bentocart refrigerator in San Francisco.

Constanza Hevia H./Special The Chronicle

“We make a profit, they make a commission, said Dilip Thapa of Raavi North Indian, who uses a new service called Bentocart. “We will do it as long as they are here.”

Even with the reopening of dining rooms, delivery and take out has become a staple in the restaurant industry. According to a new national report from consulting firm Deloitte, “The Restaurant of the Future: An Evolving Vision,” nearly two-thirds of customers do not plan to return to dining habits at pre-pandemic restaurants in the past six months. next months. Likewise, 61% of customers order take-out or deliveries at least once a week, which is a dramatic increase from 18% before the pandemic.

However, figuring out what works with these new models hasn’t always been easy.

Joseph Lai launched a delivery service called Bento Club in 2019 focused on bringing hot meals from San Francisco‘s best Asian restaurants to downtown office workers, and business has gone with shelter-in-place orders. March 2020. Instead, he tried serving people in SoMa condominiums, but it didn’t work very well. The Bento Club was unable to generate enough business to prevent some restaurants from closing.

He had an idea for a major overhaul when a customer bought $ 200 worth of food at a time. The customer told Lai that he was fed up with ordering food every day and that what he really wanted was a way to order from several restaurants at once so that he could stock his fridge for the next day. week.

Joseph Lai, co-founder and CEO of Bentocart, works on his computer in his <a class=San Francisco office.”/>

Joseph Lai, co-founder and CEO of Bentocart, works on his computer in his San Francisco office.

Constanza Hevia H./Special The Chronicle

Last month, Lai relaunched the Bento Club under the Bentocart name, offering meal plans including ready-to-heat lunches from popular San Francisco restaurants such as R&G Lounge, Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup, and Italian Homemade Co. ‘A 20-foot refrigerator, the company is working with some 50 restaurants on the development of individual meals labeled with dietary information with the home-working population in mind. Already, Bentocart has around 1,000 repeat customers, according to Lai, and delivers north to San Rafael, south to San Jose and much of the East Bay.

Ashley Phiwjan of Tycoon Thai said there is nothing wrong with working with Bentocart. With pre-orders, she can prepare meals during off-peak hours before chilling them and taking them to Bentocart’s warehouse, much like a caterer.

Likewise, Raavi North Indian’s Thapa said he appreciates how much easier it is to keep food cold than hot. With third-party delivery, he inevitably gets at least one call a day from an angry customer who wonders where his food is or why his order was wrong. This never happens with Bentocart, which now represents around 6% of its business.

Prior to the relaunch, Lai said he learned two important things: variety is vital for customers, so he must maintain a large restaurant list; and volume is crucial for the sustainability of the business.

“We need to get you enough food at a time to justify the costs of bringing a driver to your home,” he said. “That’s what our meal plan does. You agree to a week of food; then we make it work.

Even with a pickup truck model like SF2Bay, which began in the fall of 2020 by bringing Pizzeria Delfina to Marin County, owner Tracey Forster has learned the importance of various options as well. Instead of having a restaurant come to a certain area every week, she now runs it every four to six weeks. She sees customers ordering every week, sometimes getting supplies, and she just expanded with a second location in Marin.

Another successful pickup model is the Pastel, a pastry-focused option that debuted in the spring. Owner Amanda Nguyen was looking for a way to expand her bakery, Butter &, without the high overhead costs of a brick and mortar location. Hiring a driver just to bring her cakes to other parts of the Bay Area seemed overpriced, but she thought it might work if she combined her strengths with other bakeries. It was a hit, delivering B. Patisserie’s buttery kouign-amann and Arsicault flan Parisian flan tarts throughout the region, as well as savory meal kits from popular pop-ups.

Some of these companies also have a stability which allows for higher compensation for the staff. Pastel takes 10% commission from bakeries and adds 20% to the retail price for customers, which means the company’s first driver can earn a salary of $ 75,000, according to Nguyen. The Local delivery service, which started in early 2020 as a base operation in Los Gatos and now sells meals and products from around 80 restaurants and farms, has fixed driving routes with pre-orders. This allows drivers to earn $ 25 to $ 30 an hour; there is now a waiting list to get a role, according to co-founder Jonathan Friedland.

Customers, on the other hand, pay a lower cost to get delivery. Local, for example, charges a flat delivery fee of $ 5. Bentocart charges around 15%, but no tax. And Pastel includes the costs in the price indicated. Delivery apps, on the other hand, charge up to $ 10 for a delivery fee plus a 15% service charge, taxes, and a tip for the driver.

Huiming Zhang, warehouse packager at Bentocart, scans a meal to mark it as packed in the Bentocart refrigerator in San Francisco.

Huiming Zhang, warehouse packager at Bentocart, scans a meal to mark it as packed in the Bentocart refrigerator in San Francisco.

Constanza Hevia H./Special The Chronicle

“I think one thing we’ve seen is that real-time execution is great, super expensive, and there’s not really a whole new way to pass the costs on,” said Fiedland. With third-party apps adding fees that can make it easy to order lunch for $ 30, he said, “people realized they were willing to wait and pre-order.”

Despite some growth, these startups still represent a tiny portion of the food delivery market, focusing on the Bay Area and finding customers through word of mouth and social media. Locale delivers to approximately 600 customers per week, while Grubhub processes over 745,000 orders per day nationwide.

And not all of these companies are growing. While meal delivery company Feastin sold meal kits from the area’s most acclaimed restaurants like Atelier Crenn and Che Fico, offers have declined significantly over the past year. TuangoEats, which brought food to 13 pickup points and had ambitious growth plans, abruptly closed earlier this year. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

In the case of Benne, which brought meal kits from top restaurants like State Bird Provisions and Mister Jiu’s to pickup points around San Francisco until last summer, the shutdown was necessary because too many partner restaurants were faced with a staff shortage.

Juanita L., delivery driver at Bentocart, loads boxes of meals into her car at the Bentocart warehouse in San Francisco.

Juanita L., delivery driver at Bentocart, loads boxes of meals into her car at the Bentocart warehouse in San Francisco.

Constanza Hevia H./Special The Chronicle

Still, Benne co-founder Michael Molesky has said he hopes to bring it back next year as customer demand has remained.

A return from Benne would likely be somewhat different, Molesky said. He sees a growing interest in private dining and therefore an opportunity for large party meal kits. He also wants to explore reheatable dishes that take too long for most home cooks, like a cassoulet that can take 16 hours to prepare various components.

“Restaurants are going to need an ongoing additional revenue stream that goes beyond what we thought was the classic dining experience before the pandemic,” Molesky said. “In a very selfish way I want all of the great restaurants that make me happy to be a San Franciscan to still be around, so how are we going to make sure that happens?”

Bentocart: Pre-order chilled meals and meal plans at Bay Area restaurants for home delivery. bentocart.com

Place: Pre-order chilled meals, frozen foods, and baked goods at Bay Area restaurants, as well as groceries from local producers for home delivery. shoplocale.com

Pastel: Pre-order treats at local bakeries as well as meal kits to pick up in the Bay Area. discoverpastel.com

SF2Bay: Pre-order refrigerated meals at local restaurants for pickup in Marin County and Lafayette. sf2bay.com


Tanay Warerkar, associate editor of Food & Wine, contributed reporting.

Janelle Bitker is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: janelle.bitker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @janellebitker

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