What Happens When You Order a Ben’s Chili Bowl Half-Smoke on Your Smartphone
On a lazy D.C. snow day, the laziest of apps launched: PostMates, which promises to deliver anything to you with Uber-like efficiency in under an hour.
The San Francisco-based company matches users based on their location to one of its 200 couriers in D.C. and, for a fee, will deliver items ranging from toilet paper to takeout food to a full grocery list. The fee, which is based on distance, will cost users anywhere from $5 to $14.
Co-founder Sean Plaice won't reveal numbers from today, but says the app could end up being the company's most successful launch day yet (PostMates is already in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco). He says SweetGreen has been a popular order, and one customer got creative and had an iPod delivered from the Apple Store and stationary from another shop.
"Bad weather is always good for companies that provide convenience," Plaice says.
I put the new app to the test today, and ordered a half smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl. (Note: Don't order a half-smoke for delivery; it looks pretty gross upon arrival.) I signed up for the app, plugged in my credit card information, found the Ben's Chili Bowl menu on the app, and placed the order at 2:11 p.m. I was immediately assigned to a courier, Daniel; the app told me he was seven minutes away from Ben's when he accepted the courier assignment on his phone—which, I learned from watching his progress through the app, was a generous estimate.
The total came to $6.34 for the half-smoke plus a 35 cent purchase fee. The delivery fee was $8.25, but the app is offering free delivery through this Friday, so that was dropped from my bill. (Ben's and the Washington City Paper office are about 1.2 miles apart.) An extra $8.25 is pretty pricey for a six-buck item, though the fee would have been the same if I had ordered 10 half-smokes.
Daniel called when he arrived at City Paper's downtown building, and was in our office with the half-smoke at 2:53 p.m, 42 minutes after I placed the order. He said he found the courier gig on Craigslist and was a grad student looking for extra cash. He was traveling on his bike, and this was his fifth delivery of the day.
But Daniel is in the bike-riding minority. According to Plaice, 75 percent of the courier fleet is made up of cars and electric scooters. The remaining 25 percent is bikes.
The service, which runs from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., is only available to most of Northwest and Southwest D.C., but the company plans to expand its boundaries over the next few weeks, a spokeswoman said.
Asked if he has anything else to say about his company, Plaice predicts PostMates' launch could result in a city-wide cupcake war between Sprinkles, Georgetown Cupcake, and Baked and Wired.
"Once it's not about location anymore, it's all about preference, so it's going to be really interesting to see which cupcake place [gets the most orders.]" he says.