Why Online Food Ordering Doesn’t Work For Me. Yet.

Today is just one of those days. An empty stomach leads to an angry mind. An angry mind is a big impediment in staying rational. So, I write this after ensuring I’ve eaten well!

A world with online food ordering is an infinitely better world than without it. There is no doubt about that. However, I don’t see myself using it as often in India with the current state of affairs.

Things I like about online food ordering :

1) Discovery of new restaurants – The single biggest plus for me. In the last 6 months, I have ordered from places I have never physically been to or seen.

2) Convenience – There are live sporting events or times when you are watching a great movie at home when you just don’t feel like getting out of the house. Online food ordering is a great help. For those who live alone or without a family – this has opened up an ocean of choice which just wasn’t available earlier.

3) Avoids human interaction – In theory, when everything works well this is a big plus. Speaking on the phone to ill trained staff across restaurants has always been a big irritation. However, this plus is applicable only when things work well. As you will discover soon, things don’t always work well.

(I am sure there are other reasons that make you order food online. Feel free to add in the comments section below.)

Let’s talk about today. Certain circumstances developed at home which meant that I had to order food from outside or eat out.

Lunch : I am in office. I placed an order on Zomato at 12: 54 pm. I was told I will get my order latest by 1.40 pm. I ordered from a restaurant which is about 1 km from my office. I did this to ensure that food will arrive on time. Food never arrives. I chat with Zomato using their chat function. I have to get out of office latest by 1.50 pm so that I reach for an event at 2.30 pm. So I leave and I ask Zomato to cancel the order. Food arrives at 1.54 pm. I am not in office to collect it. What is irritating is that I am part of a panel discussion which goes on till 4.30 pm. There is a networking event immediately after that. So basically I am supposed to skip lunch now. This background is important so that you get an idea of how a user would normally order. Could I have ordered earlier? Maybe. Could I have made a backup plan? Maybe. But on a working day, you don’t expect someone to worry about food delivery and the various things that could go wrong with it!

What makes the situation worse is a call from the restaurant complaining – why I haven’t accepted the order! Irritation now reaches a whole new level. I crib a little on Twitter and get back to work – on an empty stomach. :-/

Dinner : Surely, things won’t be so bad this time round. Lightning doesn’t strike twice and all that. I tried to use Hola Chef this time. I place an order at 7.50 pm for something that will be delivered to me between 8.30 and 9.30 pm. I know that technically, Hola Chef can send a person at 9.25 pm ( a good 1.5 hours later!) with the food but I was willing to allow for that possibility because I had little choice and I was too tired to go out of the house. The order is accepted. Suddenly at 8.30 pm I get a call that one of the items is not available. Again, I am on an empty stomach and this leads to extreme irritation again. It shouldn’t take you 40 mins to figure out that an item is missing. They ask me to select another item. Tired of having to go through the whole process again, I asked them to just cancel the order. If the person hadn’t left yet there was no way he was reaching soon. Plus, I still had to modify my order.

I crib on twitter a little bit again. I make alternate food arrangements at home.

To be fair to the food ordering apps, this doesn’t happen all the time. I have ordered previously from Zomato, Tinyowl and Holachef and they’ve all done an okay job. However, there are two issues :

1) Actual delivery times vary a lot from expected times mentioned in the app. Hence, it works in very specific settings only.

2) There is no sense of reliability with any of them. You are always anxious. Hunger makes you a little irrational.

So what about my hunger problem?

In my experience over the last decade, there is only one true hunger helpline – Dominos (apart from tried and tested local restaurants whom you call directly). It is absolutely incredible how they manage to always deliver on time and error-free within 30 minutes. The phone ordering used to be irritating but with online/app ordering that issue has also been resolved. Dominos is expensive. But Dominos is reliable. If I am hungry and want to order home, I rely on Dominos. It’s unique because it not only makes good food but it is also the best and most reliable delivery guy in the eco-system.

( I have had the worst experiences with Faaso’s over the last 3-4 years in Mumbai. I used to like Faaso’s rolls. They were also priced reasonably. But they just couldn’t deliver at home without issues. Dominos used to bail me out during all those times.)

Hence, the big issue is that none of the food ordering companies solve my hunger problem.

Hola chef wants me to order 1.5 to 2 hrs in advance. I don’t know of too many people who plan so well in advance about their food. Sure, there could be folks who order early at 9 am in office for food to be delivered in a particular slot but someone like me wouldn’t even remember I need to eat until I’m really hungry. Zomato deliveries almost never match the expected times on their app. It is okay when I am with friends having conversations and I lose track of time. But when I am alone or if I am at work if food isn’t delivered on time it just doesn’t make sense to order food online. A hungry stomach causes stress and irritation.

For me to use food ordering apps regularly the following 2 things need to change :

1) Wait times – People order food when they are hungry. If you can’t deliver on time, you add no value. Reduce wait times and you have my loyalty. Dominos has done it consistently. Figure out how they did it. Or create your own unique way which works.

2) Reliability – Unless you establish credibility in my mind that you will deliver without errors, without multiple phone calls to me, I will always be hesitant. I can’t rely on you. I will not use you enough.

I will still use food ordering apps for parties and get togethers when I am planning in advance. I will take all your phone calls and talk to you as I may have enough leisure time.

But I don’t trust you with my hunger. Yet.

Am I being too demanding? Possibly. I travel to Europe often. I have regularly used Deliveroo and Thuisbezorgd in Amsterdam. There was a delivery charge between 2 to 5 Euros for each delivery. However, the experience was hassle free, consistent and delivery was always before time. The person delivering would always be in uniform and majority of them would be on cycles! The packaging would ensure that irrespective of heavy rains or the occasional snow, the food was delivered hot.

Maybe I expect the same level of performance from online food ordering companies here in India. It is of course not an entirely reasonable expectation. Infrastructure is poor. There is a traffic and congestion issue in almost every big city of India. There is lack of skilled manpower. I do admire start-ups who are trying to fix online delivery despite the afore mentioned issues. As an entrepreneur myself, I acknowledge that it is easy to do analysis from the outside. However, despite my sympathy for them I don’t think I see myself ordering often enough. The core issue is not being resolved yet. Not for me.

To end this, I just want to share a few numbers about Dominos in India. This company astonishes me despite the recent fall in the stock price and a the recent results. The 5 year numbers back the anecdotal evidence of excellence. In 2011, Jubilant Foodworks (the company which owns this franchise in India) did about INR 6 Bn in revenue and was selling 3.7 Crore Pizzas annually –  1 Lakh pizzas a day. In 2016, as per the latest report, their revenue is at approx INR 25 Bn a four fold jump in 5 years. There are new categories – Dunkin Donuts which also form part of the revenue but it is safe to assume Dominos still dominates the sales numbers. About 50% of Dominos’ sales are now through delivery. 40% of those orders are online. In FY 2015, Dominos was selling approximately 12 crore Pizzas. For context, that’s 2 times the number of burgers McDonald’s sells in India. All of this at a healthy profit margin – approx INR 25 Bn in 2016.

Zomato ( a private company) recently released some data about their online ordering service. They claim to process 750,000 orders a month. Interesting data points and a compelling story. The best I see Zomato doing as average commission per order is about INR 50 to INR 60(this is essentially their top line). Unless there are massive volumes it’s tough to see how a lot of money can be made in this business. The one thing that the Dominos’ numbers do is make an even stronger case for Zomato’s assertion that delivery business will grow. After all Pizza is just one category in the QSR space. It will take the likes of Zomato a few years just catching up with Dominos’ daily numbers. So there is room for massive growth. However, as an entrepreneur I’d say that it is far better to be in the business of making the food rather than being in the business of delivering it or getting it delivered.

(Update! – 22:26 pm – 10th June 2016 – The final word in this saga wasn’t spoken it seems. A lot of friends and readers suggested I try Swiggy. I downloaded the app and ordered lunch. It got delivered within 39 mins. Fancy looking Uber style live map tracker. Quite happy. However, for dinner I got a wrong item delivered to me. I understand it is not necessarily Swiggy’s fault but it still points to issues with online ordering. Within 48 hours I have experienced a lot about what can go wrong with online food ordering.)


The author is the Creator of InsideIIM.com and Konversations.com


Ankit Doshi

Creator of InsideIIM.com



Rachana Shanbhag

While I agree with all the points above, the one difference between a Dominoes and Zomato is that while Dominoes have their standard outlets everywhere (which ensures the quality and reach of their food), Zomato or even Hola are at best ‘market places’ for food providers (restaurants, home chefs,etc) to connect to consumers. The key for Zomato IMO is to ensure suppliers and logistics are in place for meeting the demand.

I have used Hola on numerous occasions and have had a good experience barring once (and for which they did provide me with redeemable brownie points). Long story short, if they focus on sensitising their partners to ensure seemless delivery, the market will lap it up 🙂


Ankit Doshi

I agree with you on the Dominos bit. my observation was just that it seems to make more business sense to be in the food making business and combine that with state of art logistics – the combination is tough to beat – just look at the revenue and profit numbers. With respect to zomato and the likes ensuring partners deliver well – it seems like a very tough ask – so many restaurants, so many different teams, different culture. When they use third party logistics, the profitability comes down or becomes non-existent. I would only be happy if the problem is solved but I’m not yet sure how it will happen. The only solution in my opinion is charging a hefty delivery fee/convenience fee and then invest that money in ensuring delivery works.

Eton Pinto

Comparing Zomato and Dominoes is like comparing apples and oranges. Dominoes has been in India since 1996 (more than enough time to perfect its delivery model) and it’s USP is delivery (While Pizza Huts USP is dine in). Zomato is just a tech partner and only provides the order without taking part in delivery, consequently, the delivery is done by a restaurant whose probably prioritizes dine-in over delivery which is why you probably had a bad experience. Plus,Zomato delivery is around 2 years old only and probably hasn’t built scale yet.
There are a few players like Swiggy which focus purely on delivery and which charge a fixed rate for delivering of food. I guess their logistics would be better and worth a shot.

Ankit Doshi

As a consumer when I am ordering food and when I am hungry I won’t be looking at who started operations when and who took how much time to perfect delivery. My money goes to the guy who delivers on time and reliably. Dominos has limited options and I am likely to be fatigued sooner and the new-age app companies/market places have an edge but yet because of reliability I choose them. The delivery numbers, revenues and profits back this too.

Ankit Doshi

(Update! – 22:26 pm – 10th June 2016 – The final word in this saga wasn’t spoken it seems. A lot of friends and readers suggested I try Swiggy. I downloaded the app and ordered lunch. It got delivered within 39 mins. Fancy looking Uber style live map tracker. Quite happy. However, for dinner I got a wrong item delivered to me. I understand it is not necessarily Swiggy’s fault but it still points to issues with online ordering.)