How Not to Order Takeout

Guest blogger Joan Warner bursts your bubble about Seamless and other food apps. Warning – the truth will hurt.  Thank you, Joan!

As we shall see, there are lots of reasons to hate Seamless, the food delivery app. But let’s start with the lies.

Actually, Seamless’ ad campaigns contain dozens of lies, so we’ll need to focus. Here’s the Big One: Real New Yorkers use third-party apps to order food.

Seamless’ target audience is kids from out of town who’ve just moved to the city for their first job. They can’t cook, because the apartment they share with four other transplanted kids has a kitchen the size of a breadbox. They don’t know where to call for takeout, because their parents back in Indiana warned them New York is dangerous, so instead of walking around the neighborhood to see what’s open at 11 p.m., they stay home on the Ikea sofa with their phones.

The Big Lie exploits these kids’ greatest vulnerability, since what they want more than anything in the world is to feel like a Real New Yorker. And they’re too young and innocent to examine Seamless’ ruthless business model, which is destroying local restaurants by the score. As a New York native, I feel duty-bound to wise them up on both counts.

Seamless’ Big Lie is composed of multiple Sub-Lies. I’ve listed and corrected several of these below

Sub-Lie: Real New Yorkers will do anything to avoid speaking to a person when ordering pizza.

Truth: Real New Yorkers know their favorite pizza makers—and delivery people—by name. We know how old their kids are, and we give them Christmas presents.

One of many moronic mischaracterizations.

Sub-Lie: Real New Yorkers live in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Chelsea, and they use phone apps to order ride-share cars when they want to go from one to another.

Truth: Real New Yorkers live in neighborhoods like Washington Heights and Murray Hill, and we take the subway unless it’s an emergency, in which case we take a yellow cab[1].

Sub-Lie: Real New Yorkers are anti-social, particularly with strangers.

Truth: As any visitor knows, Real New Yorkers are among the friendliest Americans anywhere. We love helping people—natives and newcomers alike—find their way around, save money on a handbag, or get out of jury duty.

Welcome to Ohio, where the locals are armed (and don’t know the difference between “site” and “sight”).

Sub-Lie: Real New Yorkers are insular, preferring to stick close to their own neighborhood.

Truth: Real New Yorkers have friends in all five boroughs. We adore visiting unfamiliar parts of town, especially if the real estate there is less expensive than where we currently live.

Sub-Lie: Real New Yorkers think preparing food is lame.

Truth: Real New Yorkers’ life goal is to score an apartment where we can invite people over for a homemade, sit-down meal. We know we’ve made it when we can host Thanksgiving dinner for 12.

Sub-Lie: Real New Yorkers look down at people who live in nearby states or counties.

Truth: Most Real New Yorkers move to a nearby state or county when we have kids, unless we happen to make our living as hedge fund managers or general counsel for Goldman Sachs. Sometimes we move back to the city when the kids leave for college—sometimes we don’t.

Doubling up on moronic mischaracterizations.

Turning now to Seamless’ business model, Real New Yorkers know that when you use a third-party app to order food, you might as well just stick your hand in the restaurant’s cash register and grab 30% of the contents. While you’re at it, you can put a delivery person or two out of a job. Seamless’ fees to participating restaurants have metastasized over the years and show no sign of leveling off. You can figure out what happens. In addition to firing their delivery people, restaurants have to raise prices or lose their profit margin.

It gets worse. Seamless secretly buys up domain names that redirect consumers who try to order online directly from their favorite restaurants. Think about that for a minute. I don’t even know why it’s legal.

New York businesses are doing what they can to fight back. I’ve seen signs in a few pizzerias, begging customers to call the store directly for delivery. And a couple of weeks ago, I ordered dinner from a venerable deli in the Garment District. I used the deli’s website, which took two minutes—and would have taken 90 seconds, had I not agonized over brisket vs. pastrami. My confirmation email contained this note: “We know you have many ways to order. However, when you order from our website you help us keep our costs down and we can provide you with better service and better pricing. When at all possible, PLEASE ORDER DIRECT FROM OUR WEBSITE.” Third-party food app companies aren’t any more ethical internally than they are competitively. They steal their own delivery people’s tips, and they don’t pay them minimum wage. And let’s go back to the lying for a minute. One Seamless ad campaign quoted “special instructions” from nonexistent customers (“Please draw a whale on the bag,” “Please make an additional tiny version of my order for my hamster”). Another awarded dumb distinctions to various New York neighborhoods based on fabricated delivery data. For example, the Highbridge section of the Bronx wins “Least Ideal Neighborhood for Making Out,” because Highbridge residents supposedly order an unusual amount of garlic bread.

If the fake requests were funny, they might be less annoying.

OK, inventing delivery data and customers isn’t as malignant as, say, Donald Trump’s asserting that he’s not a bigot. But if today’s political climate has made you squeamish about fake news and made-up statistics, Seamless’ ads will make you kind of nauseous.

So do the right thing and order your takeout straight from the restaurant. By the way, I’m picking on Seamless because my work commute, from the top of Manhattan to the bottom, puts me in front of those ghastly subway ads for nearly an hour at a time. But Uber Eats, Door Dash, and other competitors are no better. Don’t forget: Real New Yorkers don’t let Real New Yorkers use food apps.

[1] Watch this space to learn how Uber and Lyft hurt New York’s economy.

Joan Warner, a professional business and finance writer, has lived in New York City since birth.  Read more from Joan on her blog

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