May 29, 2020
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Eating Out, At Home!

Satish Padmanabhan on how food delivery apps bring the best of delicacies to your doorstep in no time

Eating Out, At Home!
Photograph by Getty Images
Eating Out, At Home!

Afew quick WhatsApp messages and suddenly a party happens. Drinks on the house, dinner from outside. Everybody is in the mood for biriyani, I tap Swiggy on my phone, scroll down to The Biriyani Co., a small local joint serving it as good as Hyderabad’s Paradise. It’s a weekday, they have a 20 per cent off. I have a coupon I can redeem from Swiggy. Paytm is offering another five per cent off. In the end, six of us have biriyani for what it would cost parking and popcorn in a mall. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth running kitchen at home at all.  

Of course, these achhe din won’t last forever; the discounts are mainly due to the Rs 500 crore that Bessemer Venture Partners, Norwest Venture Partners, SAIF Partners and Accel Partners have trusted Sriharsha Majety, 30, and Nandan Reddy, 29, the founders of Swiggy, with. (The app recently won the Outlook Social Media Awards for OSM Start-up of the Year).

The food delivery business is perhaps the riskiest of all start-ups, second only to the restaurant business itself—many apps mushroom, even more get roasted. But Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda and a dozen others are betting this market will be worth a sumptuous $15 billion soon and if you are good, there will be takers. Zomato claims to do over a million orders every month, Swiggy delivers from over 9,000 restaurants already. (But even the big ones can leave a bad taste. Foodpanda hit the headlines a few months ago as it suddenly sacked 500 employees citing automation, as also for some allegedly dubious business practices.)

Rankings of restaurants on food apps have been a bone of contention. Suspicions loom. But by and large, the rankings on reputed apps do not lie.

The secret recipe is to stand out in the crowd. Zomato and Foodpanda let you order from almost anywhere in the city, but their delivery time can be long and there is a minimum-order rider. Sometimes the sheer number of restaurants they deliver from can overwhelm, you can keep scrolling till your fingers hurt. You can also sharpen the searches (Manipuri restaurants in Mayapuri, for instance, though the result for this is likely to be zero). Swiggy is more localised: it usually delivers from restaurants within the five-kilometre radius from your place of order. So the choice of restaurants is limited but the delivery is prompt. Plus, there is no minimum order-you can ask for one vada pav from Vadapav Junction for Rs 25 (though in non-peak hours, they have a delivery charge). In almost all of them you can track your order through GPS.

The ranking of restaurants in these apps has been a bone of contention—are they real or genetically modified? There are allegations that restaurants pay for the high rankings, or the food delivery apps have fake reviews to prop up a certain joint. But this can only be a recipe for disaster—you might fool a customer once with a fake ranking but you have lost her for good. Broadly, the rankings in reputed food delivery apps don’t lie.

Very soon, with the traffic in every city making your BP shoot, food delivery apps will become even more part of our lives, for a quick lunch at office or a leisurely dinner at home. And the possibilities! Your niece has landed a job in Pune. It’s her birthday. You tap her location on Zomato from Delhi, search for a bakery making her favourite Belgian Truffle Cake, pay through your mobile wallet or card, and bingo, it’s there at her pad in 35 minutes. Miraculous!

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