Restaurant delivery changes mean it's easier than ever to get dinner at your door
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You're tired. Frazzled. What's more, the refrigerator is empty. Oh, who even needs a reason for not making dinner? For those nights that the thought of heading out to a restaurant makes you wrap your bathrobe tighter, know that ordering in doesn't have to mean pizza or lo mein delivery. In this age of smartphones and laptops, a new range of options -- from Indian to Greek to Italian to Japanese to Thai and beyond -- is as close as the nearest touch screen.
"The old way was that you had menus in drawers," said Abby Hunt, public relations director for GrubHub Seamless, a corporation headquartered in Chicago. Both GrubHub and Seamless -- formerly separate companies that merged last year -- have websites and mobile apps that present an array of 400 Long Island restaurants that deliver, although not all listings are up to date. Just enter your address to see what's available. "These are all restaurants that do delivery on their own," said Hunt, adding that you can read reviews of each, click on your menu choices and, also, add special instructions. Occasionally, an individual restaurant will specify a small extra charge for delivering.
But not every restaurant on Long Island has its own delivery crew. That's where a new Long Island-based service, GrabMyGrubs, comes in. The company, created in 2012 by two University of Maryland graduates, Keith Einstein and Matthew Cillis, has drivers standing by to make deliveries from a cadre of restaurants that otherwise don't deliver on their own. "We have over 13 cuisines ... and around 50 restaurants," said Einstein, 23 of Dix Hills. While GrabMyGrubs is still growing, it currently covers more than 30 localities, from Old Brookville to Lake Grove. Drivers live in the zones where they deliver.
"You have to order from a restaurant within your zone, because we want your food to travel well," said Einstein. A $3.99 charge and a minimum gratuity of 12 percent for the driver is figured into the total. (The average tip for food delivery is about 15 percent.) "There's no tip at the door," Einstein said, adding that credit cards (usually input online) and cash are both accepted.
GrabMyGrubs estimates average delivery time, from the moment ordered, at 38 minutes. For GrubHub and Seamless, delivery times depend upon the individual restaurant. All three services allow users to track orders.
For John Donegan, of Commack, who is both disabled and housebound, GrabMyGrubs has been a lifeline. "Today, I was in the mood for a cheeseburger with fried onions and four cups of coffee," he said, adding that he was more than satisfied with his order from the Dix Hills Diner. The best meal he ever ordered, though, came from Andrea's 25 in Commack and consisted of gnocchi Bolognese, baked clams, shrimp cocktail, broccoli rabe and pasta fagioli. All, he said, were delivered at proper temperature.
Jessica Cettina, an accountant who lives in Kings Park, turns to GrabMyGrubs at least once a week, usually ordering from Emilio's or Souvlaki Palace in Commack, and sometimes from Salsa Salsa in Smithtown. Often, she'll put in her order early, timing delivery for just after she gets home. She finds the time estimates accurate and the fee reasonable enough.
From a restaurateur's perspective, these services are worth the extra percentage they have to pay out -- for GrubHub, starting at 10 percent and going up according to exposure given, for GrabMyGrubs, starting at 25 percent. Arjun Singh, owner of Delhi 6 in Hicksville, doesn't mind paying GrubHub a percentage plus a credit card charge even though he also offers a delivery option on the restaurant's own website. "Although we have orders coming in privately, we have more from GrubHub," Singh said.
Emilio Branchinelli, whose Commack restaurant, Emilio's, is listed on GrabMyGrubs, views the percentage he pays philosophically. "They pay the taxes on that money, and we're not using gas, a vehicle, a man," he said, adding that while it may cut his profit, it's a great service for restaurants that don't deliver, as well as for customers wanting to order from those restaurants -- especially during this cold winter.
Pickup without leaving your car
It may not be as luxurious as home delivery, but curbside pickup sure beats hunting for a parking spot and walking to and from a restaurant. Just pull into a designated parking spot and wait for your order to be delivered to the climate-controlled comfort of your car.
If you've already given your credit card for payment, you simply sign. Otherwise, a server will hand you the bill, take your card or cash and go back into the restaurant to process it or bring back change. A few places are equipped to do the entire transaction curbside.
Here are a few Long Island restaurants offering the service, some chains, some individually owned.
BLUE MOON, 26 N. Park Ave. Rockville Centre, 516-763-4900
Pull into the marked loading zone in front of this old-fashioned Italian restaurant/pizzeria. An attendant will run out and put the order in your car, taking payment, too.
DODICI, 12 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre, 516-764-3000
Under the same ownership as Blue Moon, this contemporary Italian spot offers the same service at a marked loading zone in front of the restaurant.
F.H. RILEY'S, 400 New York Ave., Huntington, 631-271-7600
Call in your order and you'll be given a time estimate. Then, pull into the municipal lot on East Carver Street and phone the restaurant. A restaurant employee will run outside via a walkway connecting to the lot. Pay at the car.
CHEESECAKE FACTORY, 160 Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station, 631-271-8200 and 1504 Old Country Rd., Westbury, 516-222-5500
Phone in your order and you will be told when to pick it up and where the designated spots are. Pull into one of those spots and a sign will tell you what number to call. (Curbside not available in Lake Grove.)
APPLEBEE'S, 105 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Commack, 631-858-2500; available at most (but not all) other locations
Call in your order ahead, giving information about the color and make of your car. When you pull into a designated spot, a surveillance camera lets attendants know you are there.
ANTHONY'S COAL FIRED PIZZA, 8063 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury, 516-367-2625 ; 420 Northern Blvd., Great Neck, 516-482-0400; 137 Old Country Rd., Carle Place, 516-877-7750; not available in Bohemia, Commack or Wantagh
Call in an order, give the color and make of car and you'll be told when to pull up to the curb. A surveillance camera lets attendants know to come out with the order, put it in your car and take payment.
OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE, 839 New York Ave., Huntington, 631-547-6673, outback.com (call for other locations with this feature)
Call or place your order online, describing color and make of your car. When you pull up into a marked spot, your order will be brought to you and payment taken.
Placing your order
Test drives of both GrabMyGrubs and GrubHub resulted in mostly positive experiences.
I placed a GrabMyGrubs order over the phone (at 631-610-8910) for food from Bivio Ristorante Italiano in Huntington. (You can also place your order online at grabmygrubs.com). The estimated wait time was given at 45 minutes; the food came in only 40. My grilled skirt steak, with chimichurri sauce on the side, was smoky, juicy and tender. It needed about 12 seconds in the microwave to take it from lukewarm to hot without cooking it further. Sole ala Bivio featured a fresh and flaky slab of fish in a white wine sauce with pine nuts, shrimp and tomato concasse. While not piping hot, the dish was warm enough to be likable.
Cost of meal with tax: $47.90
Delivery fee: $3.99
Another night, using my iPad, I went to grubhub.com and placed an order for food from Yokohama in East Northport. One item, a meal-sized curry chicken and shrimp noodle soup, came in two plastic containers, one containing the thick, spicy soup, the other, fat noodles, shrimp and chicken. Nothing was remotely hot, so I put everything into a huge bowl and microwaved it a minute and a half. Fine, in the end. A sushi platter -- perhaps the ideal delivery item, temperature-wise -- proved a total success.
Cost of meal, with tax: $48.19 (no delivery fee)
What travels well
Whomever you turn to for delivery, you want to get the most out of the experience and keep expectations realistic. "Everyone knows that when you're doing takeout, it is not going to be as pristine as a la minute," said Emilio Branchinelli of Emilio's in Commack. Best to order sensibly, staying away from batter-fried items, such as calamari, which will immediately go soggy. If using an oven to get things crisp, Branchinelli says you should always preheat it. For reheating, pasta and parms may be your best bet. Be sure to order the bigger, thicker pastas -- tortellini, penne, rigatoni -- which take more kindly to a short stint in the microwave or a quick flip in the skillet. Thinner ones, such as spaghetti or capellini, will "drink" the sauce.
Adds Arjun Singh of Delhi 6 in Hicksville: Meat and vegetables generally travel better and take to reheating more readily than seafood.
What if your yen is for a good steak? Keith Einstein of GrabMyGrubs advises going down a notch in terms of doneness -- order rare to get medium-rare -- since the food does continue to cook a bit in its covered and insulated state.
And, yes, there are people who order expensive steaks to be delivered, said Einstein, recalling a recent $250 order from Rothmann's Steakhouse in East Norwich. "People want what they want."