On-Demand Food Apps Use Algorithms for Faster Delivery

Food delivery apps are using complex math and algorithms to get you your order faster.

There are lots of food delivery apps to choose from these days - UberEats, Postmates, and Eat24 to name a few - but a company called DoorDash is hoping to set itself apart with a mix of math and good eats.

That's because their app will tell you exactly when your order will arrive at your door!

"It’s actually a big math problem to get you a burrito through the streets of LA, or anywhere in this country," said Tony Xu, co-founder and CEO of DoorDash.

Tony Xu, DoorDash CEO and Co-Founder

Tony Xu, DoorDash CEO and Co-Founder

I recently met up with him to see how his system works, which is similar to how many of these apps operate. When you place an order using an app on your mobile phone, it is transmitted instantly to a tablet at the restaurant. Some restaurants have several tablets linked to various on-demand food delivery companies.

Next, an employee transfers your order into their system. When it's ready, a courier arrives to whisk it away. Apps make money through delivery fees or a percentage of the sale.

"I’d say my takeout business has gone up 10-15%, which is huge when it comes to restaurants," said Cary Mosier, an owner at Cafe Gratitude. The company runs a collection of California vegan restaurants. They're on board with DoorDash and several other apps.

"At this point, everyone feels like they should be able to get what they want whenever they want and you kind of have to respond to that," explained Mosier.

DoorDash uses complex software, math and algorithms to analyze the time it takes to make each item - then blends that data with other information like how busy the kitchen is and real-time traffic.

The result? When you place your order, the app tells you the minute your food should arrive.

"We’re very accurate - we’re more accurate than FedEx is with their estimates," said Xu.

To test his claim, I placed an order with DoorDash using a promotional code they provided. The company didn't place any special attention on my order - in fact, I didn't even tell them when I was placing it. I ordered lunch from a nearby California Pizza Kitchen on a Sunday. The app said my order would arrive in 56 minutes, around 12:57 PM. Much to my surprise, my doorbell rang at the exact time they quoted.

I've ordered from many different food delivery apps and generally, they give you a wide-ranging estimate of 35-95 minutes for delivery. What was really nice about DoorDash is that I had my kids come in from playing outside, wash their hands and sit down at the kitchen table just a few minutes before the estimated delivery time. This way they were properly prepared for lunch.

Bottom line: it's nice to be able to plan around the time your food will arrive.

"Restaurants and retailers were never were meant to be delivery or logistics businesses - so we’re helping solve that gap and save consumers time," concluded Xu.