Time was when eating in your hotel room meant mediocre rooms service or a pizza from a nearby joint. But in the last three years, some services have popped up to deliver food from restaurants that get so many walk-in customers they haven't done take-out before now. In a few cases, these may be the city’s most popular hotspots, places where it’s near-impossible to get a reservation.
The big players in the space are websites (and apps) GrubHub and Seamless—actually the same company, though they maintain separate websites—but they only work with restaurants that already offer delivery, acting as a simple listing service (with some warnings; see below). But some apps use their own delivery folks, and so they can expand the types of food they offer:
Amazon delivery is only open to Amazon Prime customers through its app "Prime Now". It’s rapidly expanding service across the United States with, as of this writing, restaurants in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Baltimore, Austin, and Portland, OR.
Caviar, as the name suggests, reached out to restaurants that might be considered high-end, and it has the most intriguing choices (including those hard-to-reserve restaurants). It’s currently in 15 cities, including all of those Amazon covers (with the exception of in Austin), plus New York City, San Francisco (and the rest of the Bay Area), Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, Sacramento, Miami, and Washington, DC. This website is at www.trycaviar.com.
Photo courtesy of DoorDash
DoorDash is in 22 markets across the U.S. and Canada and offers a mix of restaurants and take-out food places (fast food, bakeries, make-your-own salad stores, Taco Bell, KFC, and the like). It has a sliding scale for pricing, depending on how far you are from the restaurant you pick. DoorDash is both a website and an app.
Postmates offers restaurants in the major cities of 26 U.S. states, and has a real range of offerings—everything from Aunt Aune’s Pretzels to restaurants where star-chef Marcus Samuelsson is at the helm. This one's a website only, but its design is responsive.
UberEats uses Uber drivers to act as delivery personnel. It was tested in Toronto and is rolling out to the rest of North America. You’ll know if it’s where you happen to be when you push the little dinner plate icon at the top of the app. If it’s available in your neck of the woods, you’ll see food choices, which vary greatly from city to city and from day to day. It will soon be a standalone app, too.
Tips for using these services:
- Read the fine print before ordering: Delivery fees and added gratuities will not only differ from service to service, they sometimes change depending on where you are. Don’t assume that a service you use at home will have the same fees if you’re away.
- Beware of "ghost restaurants": This is an issue with Grubhub and Seamless only, as they deal with eateries that use their own delivery team. But both have been caught, recently, with listings from restaurants that don’t actually exist. You order a meal from, say Giorgio’s Pizzeria, but it’s actually coming from a joint that created an alias because it got too many bad user reviews. Before ordering, check somewhere else that the restaurant you’ve picked has a physical presence in the real world.
- Carefully read what expected delivery times are: This is especially important if you have your heart set on getting food from a particular, and usually high-end, place. On Caviar, for example, many of its most celebrated restaurants only accept orders for dinner deliveries that are made at midday or earlier. Wait until dinner time and you could be out of luck.
- If you do decide to simply go for pizza or Chinese food, and want to use the phone, be wary of any menus pushed under your hotel door. Con artists have been placing phony menus under hotel room doors to get travelers’ credit card numbers. You make the order, give your credit card info….and it never arrives...which may be a blessing, because you'll be spending the rest of the evening on the phone with your bank.