The hunger games: Food delivery services put to the test

Eat-in or takeaway, Thirsty Bird's food is served in packaging.
Eat-in or takeaway, Thirsty Bird's food is served in packaging. Photo: Cole Bennetts

It is a modern miracle that if you touch the right spots on your smartphone in the correct order, a pizza will appear at your door. Or Thai food. Or a crispy chicken burger with chilli aioli and sweet potato fries. You don't have to talk to a soul, or even get out of your pyjamas.

Even better? The recent explosion of food delivery apps servicing some of Sydney's best restaurants and cafes means takeaway has gone haute cuisine.

But whether restaurant-quality food can survive this high-tech delivery process is a whole separate question – what is delicious and beautifully presented on a plate may not survive a high-speed bicycle trip in a plastic container or a paper bag.

We've put three of the most popular food delivery apps to the test. The rules were simple: we ordered meals that weren't "standard" takeaway fare (no pad Thai, no pizza) and we picked restaurants from within a 2km delivery radius that we had eaten at before and knew were of a high quality.

A meal from each delivery service was ordered at lunchtime and another during the dinner rush. We then marked out of five for speed, temperature, presentation and taste for an overall score out of 20. We called it The Hunger Games.

UberEATS

Lunch: crispy chicken burger with a side of fried onion rings from On It Burgers.
Dinner: smoked wagyu tacos with crispy mac and cheese balls from Stitch Bar.

After watching my Uber-branded cyclist weaving through pedestrian traffic with a backpack full of food I didn't have high hopes for the structural integrity of the burger - however we were very pleasantly surprised.

It had travelled pretty close to 2km at high speed (being able to track your food in real time on the app's map is amazing) and was presented almost exactly 30 minutes later neatly wrapped and completely intact with the spicy mayonnaise somehow not undermining the crispy chicken or soft bun.

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The burger was still perfectly hot but unfortunately our side of battered onion rings were soft, greasy and cool.

Our UberEATS dinner order fared worse – the deliverer got lost en route and when he rang via the app (several times) his English wasn't good enough for further instructions to be passed down the phone. UberEATS doesn't seem to allow riders/drivers to call directly from their own phone number so we couldn't text more detail through.

The rider (and our food!) ended up returning to the restaurant so a manager could speak to us for further instructions. The result? Lukewarm congealed tacos that took over an hour to arrive and looked like they'd exploded. Our mac and cheese balls were still crunchy on the outside but also fairly cold. UberEATS did give us a refund on this dinner because of the mix-up.

Overall scores for both meals:
Taste: 3.5/5; temperature 2.5/5; speed 3/5; presentation 3.5/5.
Total: 12.5/20

Xiao long bao soup dumplings from  Dumplings and Beer.

Xiao long bao soup dumplings at Dumplings and Beer. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Deliveroo

Lunch: steamed pork soup dumplings and prawn gow gee dumplings from Dumplings and Beer.
Dinner: cheeseburger and sweet potato fries from Churburger.

Our cheerful cyclist (easy to spot with a branded hat and food box) arrived at the apartment block with our colourful carry bag less than 25 minutes after the dinner order was placed - an incredibly fast delivery. Our cheeseburger was piping hot and wrapped tightly in greaseproof paper inside a sturdy cardboard box. The burger was saucy, yet not soggy and the meat patty was still slightly pink and juicy inside. The sweet potato fries also won full points – crunchy and delivered inside an open paper bag that kept them warm while allowing steam to escape.

While our lunch order was the first of the three placed, it was the last to arrive – though Deliveroo did text to tell us it would be late. The dumplings were packed in groups of three or four inside separate plastic containers – a horrific waste of packaging – but it did keep them hot, full of soup and stopped them from sticking together. Disappointingly they arrived with no chopsticks, cutlery or napkins.

Overall scores for both meals:
Taste: 4.25/5; temperature 3.25/5; speed 3.5/5; presentation 3.5/5
Total: 14.5/20

Churburger in Surry Hills.

A burger on the pass at Churburger in Surry Hills. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

Foodora

Lunch: slow-cooked lamb pita wrap and salad bowl from Tap Espresso and Salad Bar. Dinner: Four pieces of fried chicken and tater tots from Thirsty Bird.

It's hard enough to get crunchy, juicy fried chicken in a restaurant - sticking it in a paper bag and cycling it 15 minutes away seemed a recipe for disaster (or at least a greasy mess) however the four-piece meal arrived hot, crisp and well under the estimated 30-minute delivery time. The tater tots were also warm, crunchy and delicious. More points for the restaurant including a huge number of napkins for messy fingers. Again, the amount of packaging seemed excessive but the food was as good as it usually is eat-in.

Lunch was a similar story with a jaunty cyclist arriving right on time – though almost knocking over two pedestrians on approach. Our lamb wrap was warm, delicious and neatly presented, and though the salad bowl was a little sweaty from the wrap's steam it had held up fairly well in transit. The vegies were crisp and the salad remained neatly presented.

Overall scores for both meals:
Taste: 4/5; temperature 3.5/5; speed 4/5; presentation 3/5
Total: 14.5/20

Riders are not paid a minimum wage, weekend penalty rates or superannuation.

A Deliveroo rider on the move. Photo: Jason South

The verdict:

There are some foods that are just never going to travel well – hot chips, onion rings and most other deep-fried items are going to cool and get soggy no matter how well they're packed and delivered. We'd expected soft messes from the burgers and fried chicken but they held up incredibly well – though the amount of packaging involved was ridiculous.

UberEATS not allowing customers access to the mobile number of their delivery driver/rider is a flaw – we watched our food speed off in the wrong direction on the app map but could do nothing. On the upside the current lack of delivery fee was a huge plus (though how long it remains free remains to be seen). Deliveroo and Foodora offer great, fast service but the $5.50 and $5.00 delivery charges stung a little.

If you're smart about what you're ordering all three of these apps are user-friendly, affordable and take takeaway to a whole new level. With a few minor exceptions all three delivered food in roughly the half-hour window as promised, even during the dinner rush. The packaging wastage is immense, but for an occasional lazy restaurant meal on the couch, the services are pretty great. Just skip the chips.