The ancient Romans considered cooking an activity unworthy of a free man, or woman. While wives run the economics and logistics of the house cooking was a slave’s work.
Of course, it was possible to eat outside the house, especially for men, in proto-restaurants called thermopile: “a typical thermopolium had little L-shaped counters in which large storage vessels were sunk, which would contain either hot or cold food. Their popularity was linked to the lack of kitchens in many dwellings and the ease with which people could purchase prepared foods. Furthermore, eating out was considered a very important aspect of socializing” (source: Wikipedia).
No records exist about a food delivery business but it’s easy to guess the possibility of sending a house slave to the local thermopolium and fetch something to eat.
Fast forward almost 2.000 years and in Paris, the first restaurants are born. “The modern idea of a restaurant – as well as the term itself – appeared in the 18th century. For centuries Paris had taverns which served food at large common tables, but they were notoriously crowded, noisy, not very clean, and served food of dubious quality. In about 1765 a new kind of eating establishment, called a “Bouillon”, was opened on rue des Poulies, near the Louvre, by a man named Boulanger. It had separate tables, a menu, and specialized in soups made with a base of meat and eggs, which were said to be restaurants or, in English: restoratives. (source: Wikipedia, again!)”
Again: no home deliveries. Think about it: no phones with which to order, no bicycles for transport, no plastic bags or cardboard containers.
To find the first printed advertising for food delivery (Chinese) we have to move to Glendale, USA, 1920: “phone and we will deliver hot dishes direct to you”. A rather exceptional relic. The earliest record of pizza delivery comes from L.A., 1950: Casa d’Amore. Free delivery until 12 p.m. on weekdays & Saturdays, 10 p.m. on Sundays.
The Second World War is a turning point in the food delivery business. “A survey of articles published in the New York Times suggests the 1950s as the start date for modern take-home meals in the United States. This also coincides with the explosion of family restaurants, and mainstream ethnic and backyard barbeques. Why? Returning WWII GI’s settled their families in the suburbs. And then came television (source: foodtimeline.org)”.
Pizza and Chinese, at least in Europe, have been the staples of takeaway for a long, long time. In fact, the opening to other cuisines is a recent affair: it’s the diffusion of the Internet and of the mobile phone that changed everything.
Now to the present: “Over the past 12 months, food and grocery delivery has been one of the hottest VC sectors. More than $1 billion was invested in 2014 – an almost fourfold increase year-on-year – with a further half a billion dollars invested in Q1 2015, according to CB Insights. (source techcrunch.com).
In the USA it’s already difficult to count the startups working in this sector. Italy, as usual, is getting up to date, slowly but steadily. It’s a 400 million euros slice of the market, with a staggering yearly international raise of 51%. And that accounts for only a 2% penetration of a market that still exists mainly offline.
The race is open, so: bring me my food and try to become a millionaire trying!