Food delivery services take off
Too tired to go out for dinner? BT Weekend reviews delivery services which bring the food to you.
Singaporeans have been getting their fast food delivered since "6235-35-35" became the most dialled hotline, thanks to its catchy TV jingle.
But as technology enabled the proliferation of online on-demand services - from holidays to shopping, transport and even laundry - more companies have jumped on board to serve up our favourite pastime on a plate.
The most prominent ones you might know are international brands, such as foodpanda and Deliveroo, and they focus mostly on restaurants and cafes.
There are also a few other smaller local outfits such as Hawker.Today and HungrySia (still in the beta-testing stage), which offer more affordable local food.
The most recent entrant is UberEats, run by online transportation network company Uber.
It was launched last Wednesday with over 100 eateries, although its delivery is limited to the CBD, Tanjong Pagar, Orchard and River Valley areas.
Singapore is the 15th country where Uber is launching this service, and Mr Avram Rampersaud, head of UberEats Singapore, said the increasing demand comes from the growing availability of options here.
He said: "A year ago, if you're tired from work or don't feel like going out, you wouldn't be able to have a meal from your favourite nearby restaurant.
"But fast-forward a year later and all of a sudden you can get your food delivered straight to you no matter what, and in a convenient and affordable way.
"Plus, restaurants now have economic opportunity outside their outlet's limited seating area - it's a great product market fit."
Four-year-old foodpanda attributed this growth to a slightly different reason: the improvement of existing services.
It started as a platform where restaurants listed their options and fulfilled their own orders.
But last year, it launched its own fleet of riders - a number that now stands at over 1,000 - to better control the customer experience.
Managing director of foodpanda Singapore Emma Heap said that while she could not reveal the average number of orders, foodpanda has had a consolidated monthly growth rate of 20 per cent this year, and returning customers place orders twice a week on average.
"Customers in 2012 used foodpanda for occasions that are planned in advance. Now, they've shifted to ordering on demand, relying on convenience and choice of restaurants. Frequency has increased quite drastically," she said.
Even more ambitious is six-month-old Deliveroo, which already has 1,200 restaurants, more than 1,100 riders, plus plans to go islandwide soon.
General manager of Deliveroo Singapore Tristan Torres said they have started investing in central kitchens, with hopes of halving their half-hour average delivery times.
He said: "Restaurants like PS Cafe for example don't have an outlet in Katong, but they want to be there and people want to order from them.
"So if I put a central kitchen there, they can cook and deliver from it. The restaurants we've talked to all love it, because opening another outlet in Singapore requires a lot of money."
It is not just restaurants that are benefiting from the booming delivery industry. Even hawker stall owners are getting involved.
Local startup Hawker.Today is a six-month-old service that focuses solely on hawkers.
It serves over 300 hawker stalls, but founder Jonathan Faynop aims to up this figure to 2,000 by the end of this year.
But he observed that delivering hawker food has its own set of challenges, like the fact that stall owners are often not as open to spending extra money on deliveries.
Although the number of food delivery companies (and their coverage) is increasing, it seems saturation is still not yet in sight.
As foodpanda's Ms Heap put it: "Everyone needs to eat and most people eat three meals a day. Singapore's population is over five million, so we believe the demand can be upwards of 200,000 a day. Even between all of us (delivery companies), we're still a long way from that."
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in The Business Times weekend edition on Saturday.
When you can get your food in 30 minutes, it becomes faster than cooking at home or going out to get takeaway.
- Ms Emma Heap, managing director of foodpanda Singapore
Foodpanda started building its own fleet of riders last year - the number is up to over 1,000 now - but it looks like it needs to do more recruiting.
A lunchtime rush could risk the app shutting down overwhelmed zones and accepting only pre-orders.
Maybe it is a better way of managing expectations than being late. In some cases, it could mean a noon order arriving at 1.45pm, still earlier than the 2pm estimate.
The saving grace is that our baked rice from Kaye Peri Peri Grille Pasta (10 minutes away) was still piping hot, although the same could not be said of our onion rings which turned soggy in their brown paper bag.
Since the app lacks a tracking function, customers have to check the order status for updates or wait till the deliveryman calls.
- Rachel Loi
Home-grown delivery app Hawker.Today prides itself on being the largest e-hawker centre in Singapore - at least that's what it is working towards.
It is fairly new for an independent start-up (its official launch was in November) so it still needs to build up its stable of options.
Even though there are officially over 300 stalls, many have erratic operating hours, often displaying an "offline" status even at conventional lunch or dinner hours.
One of the plus points about its service is that Hawker.Today offers the option of topping up an additional distance fee for orders exceeding a certain delivery radius - this at least gives customers more options.
The app itself is still rather buggy. It crashes on occasion and sometimes the order status does not update in real time.
Our noodles from Jia Le Roasted Meats arrived warm, intact, and fast (around half an hour at lunchtime).
The deliveryman's name, photo and phone number were provided in case of last-minute requests.
While we respect Hawker.Today's ambition to be islandwide in a few months and to serve 2,000 stalls by the end of this year, perhaps it might be best if they ironed out the kinks first.
- Rachel Loi
This new site is still in beta phase, so don't expect much unless you are ordering a simple dinner or supper from their test zone in the west.
Of the four eateries available, Al-Azhar and Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak stand out as popular and affordable choices.
Ordering is a little clunky: You submit a request online, which will be confirmed via SMS. They will call to warn you if deliveries take longer than 60 minutes.
Our food arrived a little later than expected and it was by a drive-by system: A couple of honks brought us over to a sheepish driver, who handed us the warm packets.
Despite its limitations, HungrySia may already prove useful to tertiary students and national servicemen who need bulk orders.
Delivery charges are reasonable at $3.50 for distances under 5km, with a minimum order of two packets.
- Tan Teck Heng
The Uber brand has been in Singapore since 2013 and it has gathered a significant following with both drivers and riders.
But with a good reputation comes high pressure, as the same standards will probably be expected from UberEats, a food delivery service that it launched last Wednesday.
So far, the app serves only over 100 restaurants and is limited to only a few central zones, but it plans to eventually go islandwide.
It does not allow for advance orders and deliveries are limited by proximity, but at least the app's interface looks about as sleek as the original Uber and it allows you to track your rider in real-time.
When it comes to the actual delivery, our rider was slightly late and the tacos from Baja Fresh were less fresh than we would have liked.
But it is just their first week so there is no reason to think they won't be able to improve.
- Rachel Loi
The company has been around for only about six months, but Deliveroo features over 1,200 restaurants, more than 1,100 riders and will be going islandwide by the end of the month.
The app is straightforward to use and comes with a tracking system so you can watch your rider making his way to your location.
Delivery costs a flat $3 and there is a minimum order of $25 if you want to avoid a $5 surcharge.
It won't be too hard to meet that minimum, considering the majority of the food options are restaurants.
Our order from the nearby Fix Cafe arrived earlier than the estimated time, with the nachos and quesadillas still in good condition. The fish enchiladas, however, were a soppy-looking mess, though still tasty, and the amount of guacamole was stingy.
Having our lunch delivered meant giving up the ability to highlight this to the service staff.
- Rachel Loi
GOURMET TO GO
Gourmet to Go is a decade-old, islandwide delivery service and fans of Indian cuisine will find its listings compelling.
Its catalogue of around 50 restaurants includes Indian eateries such as Zaffron Kitchen and Indline.
Ordering by phone took a while. Apparently, the customer service officer's computer had crashed.
Our bounty from The Orange Lantern arrived within the hour - faster than the 60 to 90 minutes promised - and the Vietnamese spring rolls were still crispy and the noodles warm.
There is a minimum order of $25 per restaurant, with additional variable charges, plus 10 per cent on orders. That's on top of the delivery fee of between $4 and $14.
- Tan Teck Heng