Food delivery services can be a blessing. For the times when you’re busy and too time-cramped to step out for lunch, it's there for you. But you still have to deal with fees and occasionally long waits. So which one should you toss your hard-earned cash at when minutes are in short supply?
We tested six services — Caviar, Amazon Restaurants, Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash and Grubhub — with food from six restaurants to find out which is fastest. To ensure an even playing field, we assembled a team of six tasters, who ordered tacos from places all within 1.5 miles from our offices in downtown Washington. The orders were placed at the same time and tracked diligently until arrival. Let’s see how they all compared. (The options are listed from slowest to fastest.)
Restaurant: Taco Bamba
Delivery estimate: 25-40 minutes
Actual delivery time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Distance: 0.8 miles
Fees: Delivery fee, $5.99. service fee, $4.77
One of the closest restaurants to our offices took the longest to arrive. I watched in hungry longing as my Postmates icon stayed perfectly still for a full hour without updates. The snail’s pace is probably the fault of the restaurant itself, rather than the app, because Taco Bamba is very popular and notorious for its long lines. You don't get to jump to the front using Postmates.
If you’re pressed for time, you shouldn’t trust the app’s time estimates. The delivery itself, though, was white-glove service. The driver called and texted on his way over and kept the tacos piping hot with an insulated hot-food delivery bag. The garnishes, such as pickled onions, avocado and red chile, also stayed nicely intact.
Conclusion: If you want your food immediately, don't order from a busy restaurant at peak lunch time. Also, Postmates’s service fees were higher than the rest. — Winyan Soo Hoo
Restaurant: Pica Taco
Delivery estimate: 25 minutes
Actual delivery time: 43 minutes
Distance: Roughly 1.5 miles
Fees: Delivery fee, $3.19 (fees vary by restaurant)
Customers who fork over money for Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping also get access to the only delivery service that requires a paid membership: Amazon Restaurants. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The fairly meager selection ranges from solid eateries, like Ventnor Sports Cafe and Hill Country, to options as wide and puzzling as the Uno Pizzeria and Grill in Union Station or the Hooters in Chinatown.
Ordering was a process filled with mystery and a little bit of awkwardness. There was no reliable way to track the driver’s pin progress in the app, because it stalled and jumped forward blocks at a time without warning. I didn’t receive any text or email notices when the food was picked up or en route.
As I stalked the front entrance of our building after the status bar on the app said “Prepare to meet your driver,” I realized there was no information on the driver’s car or identity to discern them from any random person with a plastic bag. I greeted a guy who had just parked and muttered, “Uh, Amazon?” Yes, these were my tacos. Warm and pretty tasty.
Conclusion: This delivery-app experience was filled with more social anxiety than necessary. — Hau Chu
Restaurant: El Sol
Delivery estimate: 42-52 minutes
Actual delivery time: 34 minutes
Distance: 0.5 miles
Fees: $2.99 delivery fee
There’s no shortage of taco options among DoorDash’s roster of predominantly fast-casual restaurants: Zen Taco, Surfside, Far East Taco Grille and Chipotle were at the top of my screen. That’s why I was glad to spot El Sol, the Shaw taqueria that critics agree is D.C.’s finest. As a new DoorDash user, I also appreciated the options of texting or calling my “Dasher” instead of just watching their car move around a map.
The delivery itself went pretty well: Instead of the 42 to 52 minutes estimated in the original email, I got a text that my Dasher was waiting to pick up the order 15 minutes later. The order itself, though, was more problematic. One corn shell arrived nearly empty, its filling strewn throughout the container. Other tacos were slightly more lucky but still partially deconstructed. At least they were in the bag: An ordered side of chips and salsa never arrived.
One odd thing about DoorDash: The service suggested a $4 “Dasher Tip” for my driver when I was checking out. I don’t tip a server before my food has left the kitchen. I’m used to the UberEats model: a tip afterward based on how the delivery goes. What if they get lost and the food’s 30 minutes late? What if they do an incredible job, and I want to tip more?
Conclusion: I’d order from DoorDash again, but I’d make sure my meal was full of items that travel better than these tacos. — Fritz Hahn
Restaurant: Takorean (National Place)
Delivery estimate: 27 to 38 minutes
Actual delivery time: 27 minutes
Distance: 0.5 miles
Fees: Service fee, 18 percent of total; no delivery fee on our order
Takorean is one of several restaurants, such as Pappe and All-Purpose, available only via Caviar, which offers delivery for spots that range from “cheap eats” to “critically acclaimed.” Navigating Caviar’s website was very straightforward: Enter your address, choose the restaurant and go. A few clicks and five tacos with all the trimmings later, my order was complete. (Worth noting: Caviar orders usually require a minimum, depending on the restaurant, which may be increased during times of high demand.)
I used the website rather than downloading the app — because who has room on their phones for more apps? — and was able to follow my order’s progress via a status bar at the top, updating from an instant “Got It” confirmation to “Preparing” to when the courier was on his way. The tacos arrived warm and mostly intact (wiser to order by threes rather than individually, as the trio nestled together provides cushion and filling protection).
Conclusion: I would use Caviar again but wish they’d spam my inbox less. — Kara Elder
Restaurant: Tiki Taco
Delivery estimate: 30 minutes
Actual delivery time: 25 minutes
Distance: 1.2 miles
Fees: Booking fee, $4.99 (price depends on location)
For some reason, Tiki Taco doesn’t come up on the UberEats interface unless you Google “Tiki Taco Uber eats,” which is the only blip in this delivery service. So let this be a lesson: If you don’t see your preferred dining establishment on the main interface, try an online search.
Otherwise, the entire delivery process was rather simple. I was updated via text and by a map showing where my order was in real time, and I also received a call when the order was delivered. Service was prompt and even a few minutes earlier than quoted, and the food arrived in great shape. The tacos were still warm and nuzzled well in their little clamshells.
Conclusion: I would order from them again. The service was fast and easy to understand. — Savannah Stephens
Restaurant: Rito Loco
Delivery estimate: 40 minutes
Actual delivery time: 18 minutes
Distance: 1.3 miles
Fees: $7.34 (sales tax and delivery fee)
Grubhub, which merged with Seamless in 2013, delivers to more than 550 restaurants in the Washington area. This variety can be both a blessing and a curse to a hungry worker come lunchtime. What to choose: Salad or sushi? Poke or pasta? Luckily, I had a pre-assigned mission and a hankering for tacos. A few minutes after checking out, I received a confirmation email with my order details and the option to virtually “track my order.”
Despite an original quoted wait time of 40 minutes, my order arrived in a little under 20. Score! During that time, I received multiple updates letting me know the status of my grub. The tacos — three chicken and two shrimp — were warm, fragrant and mostly in place (sans a few shrimp that escaped the taco shell in transit).
Conclusion: The fare was fresh and filling, and the delivery seamless. — Megan McDonough