Tom Scott-Redford


This post is mostly a reaction to Food Delivery is Magical Thinking by Shira Ovide.

In the ‘before times’, when we didn’t have a pile of facemasks by the door and before my weekly anxiety of getting trapped in the supermarket vegetable section, unable to leave without breaching social distancing, I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy a trip to a restaurant from time to time. The small luxury of sitting down at a table and eating food I had no idea how to cook was something to look forward to.

But that was in the before times. Now if I want to try different flavours, I either have to figure out how to cook it myself, or order in. I assume I’m not alone in this, and so far this year, the easiest way to get food from a restaurant at home has been UberEats or Deliveroo.

Except last month, I deleted both apps from my phone.

Re:work is a book from two of the team behind Basecamp. What I really took away from it is a sense that a business should be able to sustain itself from its activities. You make or do something, sell those goods or services, then use the profit to support yourself or grow the business.

That’s a business model for a sustainable business (perhaps not environmentally, but you get the point). Something that can grow and maybe even contribute to the community around it. That’s not the business model for disruptors though. For Uber and Deliveroo, it isn’t necessary to make a profit. A runway of investor cash gives them space to disrupt the market and push out competitors who might be limited by small things like needing to actually make money.

Google Photos, home to almost all the photos I have taken over the last decade, has a similar model. As do so many other tech businesses. Who can compete with unlimited free storage or with frictionless centralised food delivery?

But I don’t know if that is really how I want the services that underpin my day to day life to function.

If I’m ordering a pizza from my new favourite local pizza place, I’d rather they get the benefit of the money I spend without 30% being whisked off to people who only care about stifling the competition.

If I’m having food delivered, I’d like to know that the delivery workers are covered by the same robust social security system I am; that they get a fair wage for their work.

On top of that, I’d like to see what ideas can be brought to food delivery, or photo storage, or any of the other areas where these business models push out the competition.

Even though the services don’t work as they currently exist in most places, they press on because they have tons of cash and supporters who believe that they will eventually be efficient enough everywhere to survive and thrive. This means we are missing a chance to see alternative food delivery ideas that could work better.

Food Delivery is Magical Thinking, Shira Ovide, New York Times

So I deleted UberEats and Deliveroo. Not much of a radical protest, but at least I can call or email or fill in the homespun web form for local restaurants I care about and get great food I could never cook.

Perhaps the next food service app could be a little less disruptive and a little more supportive of the people who make ordering food worth it.

See also Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage by Ranjan Roy