How Delivery Services Started In Postwar America

Food Delivery

Los Angeles isn’t just the place where dreams come to life on the big screen: It’s also the place where restaurant delivery was invented.

When the owner of a Chinese restaurant called the Kin-Chu Café placed an ad for his new business during the 1920s in L.A., he offered an innovative value proposition: “The only place on the West Coast making and delivering real Chinese dishes,” he said in the ad.

Soon after Kin-Chu Café began its delivery service, Americans weathered tough economic times through the Great Depression, and food delivery simply wasn’t in their budgets. However, a few decades later, the economy improved, and Americans moved from the cities to the suburbs.

With stronger resources and suburban homes, Americans had other things to do than cook — like watch television. As a result, restaurants began to see their profits fall over time.

To combat the decline, restaurants “started developing these take-home menus and delivery just so people wouldn’t have to leave their homes,” food historian Emelyn Rude told VOA. “They could do both: eat restaurant food and watch television.”


Delivery Goes Mainstream

While in Europe during World War II, American soldiers developed a taste for Italian food. And, when they came home to the U.S., they frequented Italian restaurants.

In 1944, however, pizza was still a novelty in the U.S. — so much so that The New York Times described pizza in mouthwatering detail.

“One of the most popular dishes in Southern Italy, especially in the vicinity of Naples, is pizza — a pie made from a yeast dough and filled with any number of different centers, each one containing tomatoes,” the NYT reported at the time. “Cheese, mushrooms, anchovies, capers, onions and so on may be used.”

As pizza became more mainstream, Los Angeles would once again be on the forefront of food delivery. Casa D’Amore began offering free delivery to customers — assuming they had an order of at least $2.50.

As consumers became hungry for delivery, they started to enjoy takeout as well. In the early 1950s, restaurants that began offering takeout reportedly saw increased sales of 20 to 50 percent.

And to remind customers that they could, in fact, bring restaurant food home, menus often had phrases like “Any Item … May Be Ordered to Take Out.”

With takeout and delivery, Americans could enjoy their pizza — or whatever meal they desired — at home without the formal sit-down restaurant experience.


Food Delivery Goes Digital

In 1999, Jason Finger worked late at night in a New York City law firm. Finger was tired of walking around the office and taking orders from his co-workers. There had to be a better way, he thought.

So, along with a friend, Finger built a website called SeamlessWeb that sought to connect law firms and investment banks with restaurants and caterers. The site launched in 2000.

The site was a hit with both restaurants and the firms. While the restaurants liked the orders the site brought, the firms enjoyed how the website made their expense reports easier.

As the company grew, Seamless would eventually merge with Grubhub in 2013. And, since the Seamless name had become so powerful in the Big Apple, the combined company kept both brands.

Beyond the Seamless merger, Grubhub kept growing. In 2017, it acquired Foodler, Groupon’s OrderUp and Yelp’s Eat24.


The Future of Food Delivery

Besides Grubhub, there is, of course, Uber Eats. The service came on the scene in 2014 along with a handful of experimental services. Uber’s food delivery platform now operates worldwide in 29 countries and has become a powerful force in the market. In 2017, the service was on track to make $3 billion in gross sales, showing how rapidly the ridesharing company’s food delivery division has grown.

With 2 million drivers worldwide, Uber has access to a delivery infrastructure unavailable to competitors, with any given driver available to transport food or passengers in cities serviced by Uber Eats. The firm reaps the benefits of its built-in delivery fleet, with Uber Eats orders comprising 8 to 10 percent of total ride bookings.

The bills for Uber Eats orders also tend to be larger than those for standard Uber bookings, as clients pay for their food in addition to its transportation. Transportation services such as Uber are also experimenting with self-driving vehicles, perhaps foreshadowing the next major shift in delivery.

Domino’s Pizza CEO Patrick Doyle, for example, said he predicts pizza will one day be delivered without a human delivery driver — in the long-term future, that is. “I would be very surprised if it doesn’t happen in the next 10 years, which is why we are investing time and resources in understanding this shift,” Doyle said in January.


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