Head out to any major city and you will find that restaurant delivery is a huge deal. Groups like Grubhub, Postmates, Restaurant.com, and even giants like Amazon and Uber along with hundreds of small local delivery services all compete to bring food from restaurants to your home. In Arkansas your one real option is the two and a half-year old startup Chef Shuttle.
In any industry, lack of competition often leads to declining interest, less innovation, and poorer customer satisfaction. Look no further than the cable television industry, who are often locked into exclusive contracts in regions, to see how competition hurts advancement.
Unlike with television, more customers are willing to just do without when it comes to food delivery. In this situation a company is almost competing against itself to keep customers interested and engaged.
To try to inject some new life into the service, Chef Shuttle recently made a big push for fine dining. The group held a media event previewing the fine dining options (we missed, but did try some of the food later) featuring spots like Kemuri, AW Lins, Bossa Nova, Cantina Laredo, Star of India, Sushi Cafe, and Vesuvio.
The hope here obviously is to get people to think of Chef Shuttle as more than just a last-minute “oh hell, I forgot to cook dinner” option, and more of a thoughtful, premeditated choice in dining.
There are some real gems here obviously. We frequently either call in and pick up Kemuri or occasionally order it. They do a fantastic job of preparing food to go, and their items travel well. Star of India, which we have used a few times and is guaranteed to be late, travels extremely well and they do an excellent job of packing items to keep it as fresh as possible.
Promoting fine dining route opens up a world of opportunities for Chef Shuttle, both good and bad. On the positive the forward thinking approach means a lot more pre-orders which should (in theory) help the group plan drivers better. It also increases loyalty when things go well.
On the flip side as the novelty of having food delivered wears off, customers seem less and less willing to accept any type of issues with the service. Late deliveries and incorrect orders are given much less leniency for a nearly 3-year-old company than a startup still finding their footing. Looking at recent Facebook reviews you can quickly see a trend toward the negative, despite the overall positive rating for the company. Combine that with a much higher price for meals that comes with better dining and people are much less willing to accept poor quality.
Not all high-end food items travel well for delivery. One of the dishes featured for example was a whole fried red snapper. In a restaurant it is served quickly and presented well, for delivery it will produce steam in the box and soften the crispness of frying it. Nothing says fine dining quite like taking a soggy whole fish out of a styrofoam box. Other things like tacos are notoriously bad to go, they get soggy where the food sits and stale where it doesn’t.
Finally, Chef Shuttle options are not what they once were on the fine dining front. Yes they have the seven previewed, and I would throw in YaYa’s, Southern Gourmasian, and Raduno, but after that the options start to get a little thin. Aside from Kemuri there are no restaurants in that upper tier of date night spots like Table 28 and Bruno’s Little Italy, who were previously Chef Shuttle options.
It is possible with the increase in focus they could get those spots back, however the real issue is that nicer places often have very small kitchens. Busy nights for fine dining on Chef Shuttle are also busy nights inside the restaurant, so places often do not have the capacity to handle both.
Overall increasing dining, especially local dining, is a good thing. I would rather see delivery options come from a local business like Chef Shuttle than a large outside force like Uber or Grubhub. There has to be a compelling reason to increase innovation in delivery, increase options, and constantly raise the level of customer support in any maturing company. If Chef Shuttle can do those three things then they will continue to deliver a lot of meals across the state.