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Tap, click, eat to get food at home

While we love the entire dining experience, sometimes it would be nice to enjoy a dish from a favorite restaurant without having to leave home. Now we can.

There's a fascinating new dimension being added to our dining scene with the addition of what is called “tech-driven food," one of the hottest food trends of 2016. With Buffalo's growing restaurant scene, it's not surprising that businesses like SkipTheDishes (skipthedishes.com) and GrubHub (grubhub.com) are now here. (Others similar services are Seamless (part of GrubHub), Yelp EAT24 and UberEATS, which is not here.)

All work pretty much on the same concept: order food from participating restaurants via your smartphone, computer, tablet, etc., for delivery or pick up. And we’re not talking about only pizzerias and sub shops, but restaurants, too — both local and chain - including Anchor Bar, Allen Street Poutine, Kaydara Noodle Bar, Star of India and Trattoria Aroma.

For the most part, payment (food, delivery, driver tip) is via credit card, so no cash is involved. Restaurants can choose to accept cash, however. The technology takes the human element out of ordering.

According to Andrew Chau of SkipTheDishes, the company has more than 3,000 restaurants and chains across North America signed up to use its service. “Restaurants join the Skip network to receive orders without having to worry about hiring and managing their own drivers or setting up their own online ordering platform,” Chau said.

The restaurant staff receives the orders via a dedicated Skip computer or tablet directly in the kitchen. Like Uber, Skip then matches an available courier with an order who then delivers the meal using a professional thermal heating bag.

“Food couriers are often students, pensioners or people with full-time jobs looking to earn extra income on the side. Skip’s technology coordinates and facilitates orders between customers, couriers and restaurant staff. The average delivery time is approximately 45 minutes, Chau said. "Each order comes with live GPS tracking and live updates so customers know when their order will arrive.” (We saw this first hand. Very cool.)

For busy folks, Chau noted it’s another way to get a meal on the table without having to go out.

“We’ve been able to build a tech company that leverages the latest mobile and machine learning technology. These features allow busy people to spend time on things that are important to them,” he said.

So far Chau said Buffalonians are embracing the service once they become aware of it.

But what about for a restaurant? Is it making a difference? We asked chef/owner Mary Ann Giordano of Gigi's Cucina Povera in Kenmore about SkipTheDishes from her end.

“Skip has been good so far. At this point, we get two to four orders on most days. I think it will be great during the winter, especially during snow storms. I hope it keeps growing. It’s another great source to reach our customers,” she said.

Chau said Buffalo has a large and diverse selection of restaurants and a prominent “foodie” scene.

“Buffalo is one of the fastest growing cities on the Skip network in North America. People use it every day, and many new restaurants and couriers are applying to join the network. If the city continues to grow as fast as our other cities have, we’ll consider expanding the delivery area and extend the hours from lunch and dinner to breakfast and late evening,” said Chau.

GrubHub

GrubHub was founded by Matt Maloney, a web developer who became frustrated with the paper menu/delivery option. Like Skip the Dishes, GrubHub places technology in restaurant partners that takes the order and allows the restaurant to update and provide a customer with delivery estimates as well as make real-time changes to its menu.

“For example, if a restaurant wanted to add a daily special dish, to its menu, they can add it instantly via the GrubCentral technology and easily remove it from their menu if it runs out,” said Kaitlyn Carl of GrubHub, who notes the software helps restaurants accept and process orders. “One restaurant owner let us know that he wouldn’t be able to process all of his orders without his partnership with GrubHub.”

Carl says GrubHub offers a network that allows restaurants to tap into a large base of local diners to increase order volume. “There is no fee for restaurants to be listed on GrubHub — we just take a small fee on orders that we send their way,” she said.

GrubHub surveyed its restaurant partners in 2015 and found the restaurants’ take-out business increased by 30 percent on average, along with a revenue increase. Unlike Skip, GrubHub’s restaurants provide their own delivery person but Carl said the company is currently testing GrubHub-provided delivery in the Buffalo market.

“GrubHub is solely focused on connecting Buffalo diners with the best local restaurants and driving more orders for local businesses,” said Carl, who noted that more than 90 percent of orders are repeat customers.

What it's like

Of course we had to experiment, so I downloaded the apps and started tapping away on my phone. The software finds your location and goes from there. A list of available restaurants — near and not so near to your location — will come up.

Both services let customers refine by such things as distance, time, fee and restaurant score (reviews). Delivery fees vary. A customer can pre-order for a specific time if the restaurant is online accepting orders. Driver tips can be made by percentage.

As I played with the apps, it became apparent how useful the service could be. A customer could plug in an address to have dinner delivered to a shut-in parent. Or send lunch as a thank you to the neighbors who kept an eye on things on vacation, etc.

I tried Skip the night of the Bills/Jets game. After working all day, it was the perfect opportunity to test it out. We originally planned on cheeseburgers from Checkers on Union Road, but for some reason it wasn't on the network at that time. We decided on burgers from Famous Dave’s on Walden Avenue. My father was skeptical, but was soon impressed.

I tapped in our order, three burgers and bread pudding (just for fun). I watched my phone as the restaurant confirmed my order. Simultaneously, a courier headed to pick it up. I could see the car icon get to the restaurant, wait a bit and then head to our house.

I placed my order at 7:10 pm. By 7:45 the courier was pulling up with our order. He said he delivers all over, especially around the University at Buffalo area.

The burgers arrived with the correct sides, nicely packaged with plastic ware and even Wet-Naps.

Before we knew it, the Skip's courier arrived with our bag of food.

Famous Dave’s sent the barbecue sauce for the burgers on the side to keep the buns from getting soggy too. Bread pudding also had the sauce on the side and two cups of whipped cream.

Dave’s Famous Bread Pudding with praline sauce and whipped cream.

Dave’s Famous Bread Pudding with praline sauce and whipped cream.

Cheeseburger with baked beans exactly as we ordered.

Dave’ Favorite Burger with mac and cheese.

Dave’ Favorite Burger with mac and cheese.

The food was as hot as it would have been had we picked it up. The food/beverage for three burgers and bread pudding was $37.46; $2.99 delivery fee; $3.54 sales tax and $5.61 courier tip (15 percent). For $49.60 we had dinner delivered.

We tried GrubHub at our downtown office for lunch. I used a $5 off e-mail coupon for signing up. Although it didn’t show the discount on my computer, the correct price was charged to my credit card. We ordered from The Chocolate Bar  on Chippewa Street at 11:12 a.m. (the receipt showed 11:21), our order arrived around noon, driven by “Emily,” one of GrubHub's test couriers.

Our Southwest salad ($10.95) arrived exactly as requested, no cheese, no poblano pepper and dressing on the side.

The chipotle pulled pork flatbread was $9.95.

Chipotle Flatbread from The Chocolate Bar.

Chipotle pulled pork flatbread from The Chocolate Bar arrive nicely packaged in two layers with parchment in between.

Total cost (with coupon) was $28.63 and included the $5.99 delivery fee, $2.35 tax, $4.39 tip. Without the coupon it would have been $33.63.

Our verdict? While cost for ordering might be a little high for some folks, it’s about convenience. Some restaurants appeared on both Skip and Grub's networks; some on one or the other. (For now Skip seemed to have more choices depending on our location.)

While we might not use it all the time, we can definitely see its uses. Time will tell if it truly is the way of the future for local restaurants.

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