Here's how I got free or incredibly cheap food from online delivery services for months on end. But should I have taken advantage of them?
New York City is teeming with a permanent underclass of bicycling immigrants freighting styrofoam containers of hot calories from the city’s closet-size take-out joints to its closet-size apartments. It’s a beautiful network of junk-food trafficking. But can a man subsist on delivery food alone? Of course he can. I did. And I’m still alive, sort of.
I didn’t intend to embark on this Morgan Spurlockian experiment. But in the past half year, I’ve lived for months on end eating nothing but food ordered from online delivery sites like Seamless, GrubHub, and Delivery.com. I did it because I got the food for free, more or less. Then I just kept doing it.
Restaurant delivery websites are plentiful on the Internet, and it’s easy to see why — it’s an obvious and attractively simple business model. Take-out joints are unlikely to have their own website, much less a well-coded, up-to-date portal allowing customers to order online. Sites like Seamless can pool these restaurants together, digitize their menus, and take a commission on each order when it sends them to the guy working the fryer.
Seamless, which recently changed its name from SeamlessWeb, is practically Internet antiquity. The service launched last century, in 1999. Yet the concept of online delivery has remained more or less unchanged since then, with no clear market leader emerging. These websites, the Seamlesses and the GrubHubs, have been engaged in a never-ending turf war.
Because there is yet to exist “the Facebook of” ordering food online, these sites, which are backed by hefty venture capital, like to buy up competitors and complementary sites and paper the subway cars, taxi-cab TVs, and Web browsers of urban dwellers with advertisements in an all-out dash to hit the tipping point of market-defining popularity that is the raison d'être of Internet startups. It’s also why, after you order, they encourage you to tweet or share with your Facebook friends the breaking news that you are a human being who has just procured some food to eat.
Most importantly, it’s why these services offer deep discounts to customers ordering with them for the first time. I’ve used these coupon codes and sign-up offers since I was a college student, but only recently did I try to game the system. I immediately won.