Which company is winning the restaurant food delivery war?

When many Americans sheltered in their homes early in the coronavirus pandemic, meal delivery sales reached new heights. Our data reveals that in October, sales for meal delivery services grew 135 percent. 

Shelter-in-place orders may also be driving more Americans to make their first meal delivery purchase. In October, 34 percent of U.S. consumers had ever ordered from one of the services in our analysis, up from 27 percent a year ago. 

These thriving businesses are in the spotlight during the COVID-19 era—with recent news of  DoorDash filing to go public, while Uber is poised to acquire Postmates by the end of the year in an attempt to consolidate market share and boost profitability. Uber is also seeking ways to diversify its existing business strategy, and recently launched a U.S. grocery delivery service. Meanwhile, DoorDash’s partnership with CVS marks the company’s first foray into grocery delivery, and Postmates has begun partnering with retailers in advance of the holiday season.

DoorDash and its subsidiaries earned 51 percent of U.S. consumers’ meal delivery sales in October, while our data indicates Uber Eats came in second place with 23 percent. It’s worth noting that our sales metrics may differ from publicly reported earnings for a number of reasons. First, some Uber Eats transactions are indistinguishable from Uber Rides transactions in Second Measure’s data, and this issue was especially pronounced from May 2019 to mid-August 2019. Additionally, Second Measure’s data does not include Uber Eats’ purchases made using Uber Cash or purchases made by corporate customers, an area where Uber Eats is reportedly making inroads. Our analysis includes aggregated debit and credit card purchases from a panel of millions of anonymized U.S. consumers.

Grubhub and its subsidiaries, which include Seamless and Eat24, came in at 18 percent of U.S. meal delivery consumer spending in October. (Purchases made through LevelUp, which Grubhub acquired in late 2018, are not included in our analysis. Neither are college student meal plan purchases made through Grubhub subsidiary Tapingo.)

The fourth major U.S. meal delivery company is Postmates. The company confidentially filed for an IPO last winter and raised $225 million in the fall, but as noted above, is expected to be acquired by Uber by the end of 2020. Postmates earned 7 percent of the U.S. meal delivery market in October.

One of the industry’s smaller services, Waitr, earned 1 percent of national sales. In January, the company announced plans to lay off all drivers in favor of using contractors. The change came weeks after Waitr installed a new CEO as it tried to boost share prices and remain listed on Nasdaq

Grubhub and DoorDash control different parts of the country 

The top two food delivery services may be close in U.S. market share, but their strongholds are in different regions. Grubhub is the most popular service in many Northeastern metro areas, including Boston and New York. DoorDash rakes in more than half the sales in the two biggest Texas metro areas, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, and it’s exceeded two-thirds of the market share in its Bay Area home turf. 

Subscription meals have appeal

As meal delivery services look for new ways to grow in cities big and small, one emerging answer is subscriptions. In February, Grubhub announced its answer to Postmates Unlimited (launched in 2016) and DoorDash’s DashPass (launched in 2018). Notably, in December 2019, DoorDash partnered with Chase to give free DashPass memberships to millions of credit card holders. (These free memberships are not included in Second Measure’s data.) Uber is also testing various subscription plans for food, rides, bikes, and scooters.

In October, 19 percent of Postmates customers were subscribers, a proportion that’s grown slightly over the past year. DashPass attracted 20 percent of DoorDash’s customers, not including the promotional memberships they offered Chase users.

Companies vie for restaurant partners

Another very popular growth strategy for meal delivery companies has been forming partnerships with the nation’s top chain restaurants. (Though many services have also recently been in the news for listing restaurants that do not want partnerships.) In January, DoorDash officially teamed up with Little Caesars Pizza, a brand that has never previously offered delivery. DoorDash has other deals with Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, and McDonald’s, the biggest fast food chain in the country, which also offers delivery with Uber Eats.

Starbucks has a contract with Uber Eats, Popeyes with Postmates, and Taco Bell and KFC with Grubhub. Yet, as Uber Eats and Grubhub public filings show, partnerships don’t always lead to revenue. Often, larger partners pay the delivery services lower fees, decreasing their take rates or even causing them to lose money. Conversely, some restaurants that are relying heavily on delivery amidst the pandemic have reported losing money on orders as delivery companies charge high service fees, prompting policy intervention in many cities.

However, the partnerships seem to be driving sales for some of the restaurants. The Cheesecake Factory and Chipotle have publicly credited DoorDash with boosting their revenue. In October, Second Measure data shows 23 percent of The Cheesecake Factory’s sales came through DoorDash (before subtracting DoorDash’s cut or the delivery tip). The delivery service accounted for 10 percent of October sales at Buffalo Wild Wings, and 11 percent at Chipotle.

Fewer customers are loyal to a single service

Despite overall industry growth, the battle for customers is getting more intense because fewer of today’s diners are loyal to just one service. (Grubhub’s CEO has cited “promiscuous customers” as a hindrance to his company’s growth.) In the third quarter of 2018, 71 percent of Grubhub’s customers didn’t use other meal delivery services. Two years later, it’s fallen to 49 percent, as competing services woo customers with different restaurant offerings and promotional prices.

Postmates has the lowest percentage of exclusive customers (37 percent). DoorDash saw 53 percent of customers use them exclusively in the third quarter of 2020, and for Uber Eats, it was 43 percent. All of the services in our analysis have a lower percentage of exclusive customers than they did two years ago.

Not surprisingly, the biggest meal delivery services are also the most likely to share customers. Around 40 percent of each company’s diners also ordered food from top competitor DoorDash in the third quarter of 2020.

As more restaurants form exclusive delivery partnerships, more diners are going to have to hop between apps to cover all their favorite takeout spots. The least loyal customers, it seems, will also be the most well fed.

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