Published February 7, 20184 min read
Updated Dec. 13, 2019: Food delivery, where I live, is dictated by the distance a delivery-person can travel by bike before the costs to the restaurant become outweighed by the benefits. The restaurant sets this range, submits it to the food delivery apps to which it outsources order taking, and when you punch in your ZIP code, you’ll know instantly what’s available to you or not.
An example of this is Seamless — you can learn how to save on the app here.
I've encountered a common problem. There is plenty of great food within a given delivery range, but almost all of it is bank-breakingly expensive. The good, cheap stuff was out of reach as long as the restaurant couldn’t spare the cost of running its delivery staff up to my apartment.
Postmates is an attempt to solve this problem. Unlike Seamless, which outsources only the business of placing an order, Postmates allows restaurants to outsource the actual delivery. Rather than tying down a delivery-person to one restaurant, Postmates workers wander the city waiting for an order to come in, like Uber drivers waiting for a fare. This significantly expands the delivery range, pinging the Postmate (as a courier is called) nearest to your desired food and telling them where to pick it up.
Not only can you expand your selection of cuisines, but you can also get your food faster. The traditional restaurant delivery operation typically entails a single person making a bunch of deliveries at once, taking time in between trips, plus periodically returning to home base to grab a new batch of orders. I’ve never had to wait more than 20 to 45 minutes for my Postmate to arrive because they're not waiting on the restaurant.
Interested in becoming a Postmate? Learn more about how to make a living off of apps here.
There are a number of fees involved. If your order is less than $12, you’ll pay a $1.99 Small Cart Fee, so suddenly I’m adding extra to meet the minimum. Postmates also charges you a fee for the delivery itself, and another fee on top of that for the service.
The delivery fee is a flat fee of $3.99 for deliveries from restaurants that have “partnered” with Postmates, and $5.99 for restaurants that haven’t.
Postmates offers a subscription service called Postmates Unlimited that cancels the delivery fee in return for a monthly ($9.99) or annual ($83.99) charge that is generally lower than the sum of paying the delivery fee twice a month. The catch with the premium service is that you have to order at least $20 worth of food to lose the delivery fee. Order less than $20 and you’re in the expensive position of paying money for free delivery and still having to shell out for the delivery.
The service fee is 19.99% of the total, and Postmates caps the fee amount at $20. You’ll only pay the service fee when you order from a restaurant that hasn’t partnered with Postmates.
In the app, restaurants that do partner have a green check mark next to their name, which indicates that you won’t be assessed a service fee. (You’ll still have to pay a delivery fee if you don’t have Unlimited.)
When Postmates works, and when it’s not price-gouging you, it’s a blessing. Because the food arrives so fast, there’s a better chance it’ll be hot than when ordering directly from the restaurant. The Postmates app, while often confusing in design, has a GPS function that tracks your Postmate from beginning to end, so you never wonder about where the hell your delivery is as you grow hungrier.
But the service can be frustrating, too. Restaurants frequently go “offline” when you attempt to order from them, something that’s up to the restaurant to decide.
These restaurants still appear in the list of search results, with text indicating that they’re offline, so that adds an unnecessary delay to the ordering process as I have to scroll past the merchants I can’t order from. And if you try to reorder from a restaurant via the Past Orders section, you won’t learn whether the restaurant is offline until you’ve already loaded its page.
If I’m too tired to cook, I still find myself first logging into the Postmates app, messing around with it until I find a restaurant that’s online and doesn’t have a service fee. Even if you do decide to pay the fee, you might discover that it’s worth the cost of convenience. You’ll open yourself up to a range of dining possibilities that make the cost worth it. If you’re sick of eating at the same restaurants in your usual delivery range, or if you don’t have a lot to choose from, give Postmates a try. But be prepared to splurge for a great meal.
Love ordering in? Check out these seven easy ways to save on takeout.
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