We had become embarrassingly close to addiction with food delivery services, until we stepped back from the brink and realized the consequences, not just monetarily, but socially as well. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when you had two choices of food delivered to your door: Chinese or pizza. No more. Now, the finest restaurants in town will pack it up and zip it right out to you, and your only task is the occasional 15 seconds in the microwave. You don't even need dinnerware anymore. You can eat it right out of the sectional plastic tray.
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The food delivery business has popped up like mushrooms in a cow pasture, or maybe Uber. Of course, it's not just food anymore. Need toothpaste and Dr. Scholl's insoles? Push a few buttons and someone will rush it right over. Don't feel like Krogering? There's an app for that. Where they once made it so inconvenient that you had to drive over there and have someone load up your groceries, they deliver now. In fact, if you hurry, Kroger is having a sale for your July 4th festivities. Nathan's Skinless Beef Franks are $2.99 a pack, their famous mustard potato salad is $3.99 for three pounds, and American flags have been marked down from 49 cents to 44 cents. The beer is regularly priced, but it eliminates what used to be a rite of passage for young males — the beer run. If beer is too pedestrian, they'll bring you a nice Sauvignon Blanc for $19.99. This is a dream come true for agoraphobics. Now there really is no need to leave the house.
As with any addiction, there are plenty of enticements to draw you in, like free delivery and daily specials. For a hefty deposit, you can get free delivery in perpetuity. It's especially fun to track your order. The restaurant will inform you when your driver leaves the store and when he'll arrive. On some services, a little car will pop up on the screen and you can follow it directly from the eatery to your driveway.
Our first experience was with Meals in Motion, which contains some of our favorites but is limited in their number of restaurants. We quickly signed up for Uber Eats, Bite Squad, and Door Dash. We tried Postmates, but they wanted some ridiculous amount of money in advance to put on your credit card, so they got deleted. Grubhub has yet to arrive on my block. The rest operate in pretty much the same way: Choose a restaurant, give them your credit card, pull up the menu, press a few buttons, and some nice person will drive your food over — tip included, even if you feel like a bag of Krystals. There's no waiting for a table, no dealing with a harried server, no wondering why the next table got served when they came in after you, and no deciphering the difference between 15 and 20 percent.
As with any new service, you learn some things by trial and error. For instance, in a restaurant, if they overcook your cheeseburger, you can send it back. Delivery offers that same option, but it will take an additional hour to correct it, and by then you've decided that you're hungry enough to go ahead and eat the overcooked burger. It's the same with the occasional menu mistake. There's no mistaking beef tacos when that's what you ordered online, but when they arrive beefless, what are you going to do? The restaurant will give you a credit, but that doesn't make up for a spoiled meal. If you order something from a favorite restaurant, say, a beef chimichanga, it's not quite the same as when they bring it fresh from the kitchen.
We didn't realize how deeply we were descending into the hedonistic lifestyle until the night we had a hankering for some ice cream. We live within short driving distance from two Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops and one of them is a drive-thru, but they were on the list of stores that delivered. We ordered a variety of scoops in a cup, but it took a while. I kept checking my phone for updates while our cream-cravings intensified. When it finally arrived, the check not only included the cost of the ice cream, but a healthy tax, a pre-arranged tip for the driver, and a $5 delivery charge that was supposed to be free. The guilt over our obscene laziness was palpable. We could have gone Krogering and had a couple of gallons sent over for the same price.
There's an additional reason that we've scaled back on dinner delivery, and it's the same reason we never use self-checkout in a grocery store or any other discount store chain. We figured for every self-checkout lane, a cashier or sacker will lose a job, and although there's no stopping automation, we can do our part until it replaces the entire workforce. The same goes for restaurants. Eating at home is easy, but it doesn't quite match going to an actual restaurant, sitting down at a table, and enjoying a meal. Since I'm not trying to promote any individual restaurant, let's pretend you have a particular favorite, and for the sake of argument we'll call it "Patrick's." It's a down-home meat-and-three restaurant. Their food is good and reasonably priced, the atmosphere is convivial, and they have an Elvis wall right in the same spot where I used to play gigs when it was a nightclub in a previous incarnation. Delivery is great, but then we wouldn't get to see our favorite host, Ben Sumner, or the best server in town, Jo Jo Chetter, whom we have followed from her days at Kudzu's and who can enthrall you with tales of Ireland.
Delivery services create new jobs for drivers and profits for restaurants, but before you order the next time, remember the cooks, servers, busboys, and cashiers who depend on you putting on your pants and making a personal appearance.
Randy Haspel writes the "Recycled Hippies" blog.