Online services that cater to diners ordering restaurant food for delivery and pickup have been around more than a decade, with at least a dozen national and local players. The industry continues to grow with the aid of numerous technological advances, and it recently has gone through some big structural changes as well.
In July, Yelp, a Web giant that focuses on user reviews for restaurants and other businesses, launched its own online and mobile-ordering platform by partnering with existing services such as Eat24 and Delivery.com.
One month later, GrubHub, with headquarters in Chicago, and New York-based Seamless, both national powerhouses in the online and mobile food-ordering universe, merged into a new entity known as GrubHub Seamless.
With this type of competition, new technological innovations are key to setting one service apart from another to capture business, and that’s been a focus of Foodler, which allows diners to order food from more than 12,000 restaurants in 48 states. Additionally, in September, Foodler expanded into Canada with 135 restaurants signed on to participate in Vancouver.
Boston-based Foodler, which inaugurated its website in 2005, uses groundbreaking data applications to develop several unique features such as Best Bets and Foodler Ratings that help online customers.
Best Bets is a data-driven component that analyzes types of cuisine and particular menu items preferred by a diner to recommend new restaurants that he or she may enjoy. Points for customer ratings, cuisine, costs, and discounts determine the Best Bets.
The recently updated Foodler Ratings system is just as unique. Instead of people writing reviews, Foodler asks them to rank specific menu items they have ordered with one to five stars.
This simple method of rating a dish has caught on quickly. Within just a few weeks of the rating system becoming active, some dishes at Passage to India, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had more than 800 customer ratings. Comparatively, the restaurant had just 114 Yelp reviews.
Unlike some websites, where critiques can be created by anyone, the reviews at Foodler come from customers who actually ate the particular dish. Users click the particular rating based on the quality of the item they ate.
“We started off with a star rating for the restaurants, and soon afterwards we came up with the ability to rate menu items,” says Christian Dumontet, chief executive. “We can combine that with our recommendations system to suggest dishes at certain restaurants.”
Three years ago, Foodler began tracking consumers’ selections to create a flavor profile for a particular user. It takes as few as three orders to begin developing that profile, and it makes the entire process of delivery or pickup ordering more “personalized,” he adds.
Once the flavor profile is created it is transferable, Dumontet adds, meaning it can apply to restaurants wherever the diner happens to be, including when they travel on business trips and vacations.
“A rating helps people choose specific dishes,” like the popular Chicken Tikka Masala ($11.99), says Narinder Guhania, owner of Passage to India. “I’m not saying it’s good or bad, [but] it helps people if they are trying to decide what to order.”
Passage to India, which features dishes from Northern India, has been a Foodler client since the service began and does about 65 percent of its online-ordering business with it.
Another Foodler fan, Horizon Café, has been rated a Best Bet for diners ordering takeout or delivery in Chicago’s Wrigleyville area. The American-style restaurant has been around only slightly longer than Foodler and is one of a few restaurants that deliver breakfast. It gets high marks and more reviews for items like its skillet creations and biscuits and sausage gravy ($6.99), and owner Nick Cocalis likes the service he gets from the company.
“We do have a good rating, and I like that,” he says. “It means the customers like what we have. But I’m paying them for the e-commerce and service, not the ratings, which are tertiary.”
The most important part is making sure the order is correct. “We serve thousands of orders for delivery, and our error rate is less than half a percent,” Cocalis says.
But he will consider a dish’s rating if customers give it a low evaluation. “If people say it’s too bitter or bland, I look at that as market research. So let’s tweak it and add something and make it better,” explains Cocalis.