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Delivery giants like Grubhub offer convenience, but at what cost?

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What’s the Most Ethical Food Delivery App?

Readers want to know if there’s a way to get your favorite restaurant food delivered without relying on UberEats, Postmates, Grubhub, or DoorDash

Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

We’ve heard the question asked in different ways: What’s the best food delivery app? Is there any difference between Uber Eats, Grubhub, Postmates, and DoorDash? Is there even such a thing as an ethical delivery app?

In the end, these questions boil down to the idea of wanting both the convenience of having great food delivered affordably and on-demand and the ability to sleep well knowing you didn’t support a giant company that’s extracting money from cash-strapped restaurant owners by employing a workforce of people who may or may not be making a living wage. In short, is it possible to have your delivery cake and eat it, too?

Listen, we get it: there are legitimate reasons for being wary of going out to dinner right now. Takeout not only decreases your risk of being exposed to the readily spreading delta variant, but it also decreases the risks restaurant and bar workers have to take in order to get you fed. As always, the best bet for keeping money in the pockets of the businesses you want to support is to pick up or get delivery from those places that offer it in-house. But for those days when you just can’t, there’s at least one possible option for San Francisco diners who want to avoid apps that seem more like evil empires than small business allies.

Youhan Fang is co-founder and CEO of HyperFlyer, a San Francisco-based startup that launched about four months ago. Through the HyperFlyer website, customers can request delivery from a list of restaurants. Customers pay a flat delivery fee of $7.95 per order within a 3-mile radius, which will be delivered by a contract courier paid by HyperFlyer. Fang says the company hopes to eliminate the lack of transparency around pricing for both restaurants and customers. That’s why HyperFlyer favors a flat delivery fee. Yes, it’s more expensive than other options, but Fang argues it’s a better deal for customers placing larger orders, like, a family ordering dinner for four.

So, how does it actually work? Well, HyperFlyer doesn’t need to charge commission because it uses the restaurant’s pre-existing online ordering system. And for places that want to get online ordering set up, HyperFlyer can help for free — though there’s also an option for restaurants to pay the company for some services.

But the key difference between HyperFlyer and other delivery options is that it uses a staff of delivery drivers, rather than gig workers. Or, at least, it will. Right now, Fang says the company is outsourcing delivery work to “third party logistic companies” because there just aren’t enough orders to justify having drivers on staff. And that’s the sticky part; delivery is a “very heavy business,” he says, and HyperFlyer needs to be handling an astronomical number of orders to be financially sustainable. Right now, HyperFlyer is experiencing a driver shortage that makes the delivery service “very unstable,” Fang says. So, yeah, there are a lot of potential issues for the startup, but despite the challenges, Fang’s hopeful this model, or something like it, can work based on the success of logistics company Dianwoda, which provides short-distance delivery in China.

In the meantime, he also points out that diners can turn to HyperFlyer to find restaurants with online ordering systems (and to circumvent the fees third-party apps charge even for pick-up orders) or, which aggregates restaurants that offer in-house delivery. Restaurants can opt to use DoorDash Drive, which circumvents using the DoorDash platform so restaurants don’t have to pay commission on orders.

“It’s quite a challenge,” Fang says of HyerFlyer’s goal to rid the food delivery industry of all those fees (and in doing so, of its reliance on gig workers). “There’s a lot of problems in the entire business model and we’re not 100% sure this can work, but this is something. We are trying to make it work.”

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