Chef Shuttle dominated the restaurant food delivery business for three years in Central Arkansas. That all came to an end back in May when Chef Shuttle sold to Bite Squad, another food delivery service based out of Minneapolis. Now it appears the floodgates for restaurant delivery is wide open in Little Rock.
Chef Shuttle launched quietly in 2014 from owner Ryan Herget. It grew slowly, mostly by word of mouth through 2014, gaining some fans in the local food community thanks to a couple of well positioned early delivery options like Bruno’s Little Italy and The Fold. It wasn’t until people at the Razorback War Memorial game that year got word of it delivering to the golf course that the company showed the first signs of growing pains.
The growing pains continued to resurface over the 3 year life of the company during busy periods. I spoke with Herget many times, and he believed the restaurant delivery industry was poised for consolidation. They focused a good amount of energy on the consolidation point, knowing that if they hung in long enough they would be in good position once it happened.
They began to invest heavily in new markets, adding Memphis, Northwest Arkansas, and had started laying the groundwork for East Tennessee at the time of the acquisition. They also were working heavily on a new software platform that would ease a lot of their ongoing scale problems that resulted mostly in communication breakdown with restuarants and customers when the service became busy.
Chef Shuttle held their position strongly in Central Arkansas, thanks mostly due to a non-compete portion in the contract with most restuarants. Since they were first to market in Little Rock, it put them in a unique position to keep competition at bay. The lack of competition is something that rarely exists in other markets, and it allowed Chef Shuttle to grow slow and methodically over time.
Now that Chef Shuttle is out of the picture, there appears to be several companies wanting to enter the market. There is Bite Squad, which purchased Chef Shuttle and all their accounts and customers. They launched in parallel with Chef Shuttle running and was fully switched in early June. Also announced in the market is Waitr, based out of Louisiana, which hopes to be fully operational next week. There are also rumors of several others trying to move into the market.
Bite Squad for their part is already struggling. Their fees are the same as Chef Shuttle, something that didn’t win them any favors. They also appear to have no local call center or customer support team. If your order is late, delayed, or missing altogether your only hope is to email their national team or use their chat feature on the website. It has already led to several restuarants pulling out of the service, and a bad (and probably cold food) taste in a lot of customer’s mouths. They also take the same approach as Chef Shuttle of signing anyone that will deliver food, with no preference for quality.
I have spent some time talking to the team at Waitr, and on the surface at least it feels much more impressive. They have a full team on the ground in Little Rock with a local call center. They take a much more active role in monitoring the food delivery to ensure on-time orders, and informing you of anything late. Their fee structure is also much better, offering two options for restuarants. One with a much lower fee per transaction with a small upfront cost. Another option, still cheaper than Chef Shuttle, exist with no upfront cost. Both options include equipment, and best, a photoshoot to help promote the menu items.
Even better, in our opinion, is Waitr tries to put an emphasis on quality food with a preference toward locally owned or operated. They chase very few national accounts. They also seem, at least from conversations, to put a stronger effort on marketing each individual space.
Both Bite Squad and Waitr have much better technology than Chef Shuttle, which sent orders through faxes and emails (hello 1990s). Both offer an iPad for restaurants to receive orders, a mobile app for customers, and a far better interface for the website. Again, Chef Shuttle was making moves behind the scenes to add all of this, but it is already there with the new spaces.
For others coming into market, they will likely have a mix of the same features as well.
It is still way too early to tell how this will all end up for consumers. These will not be the only competitors. Competition, however, should be a good thing for everyone. Where Chef Shuttle had no competition, and could set fees and service level accordingly, the new companies will have to fight for your dollar.
Out of the two early contenders, Waitr seems to be better positioned. They really thrive in markets the size of Little Rock, having several similarly sized markets across the South. Bite Squad’s early stumbles and lack of local market knowledge is really hurting them out of the gate. With competition coming hard and fast I will be very surprised if they survive against seemingly better options.
One thing is for sure though, restaurant delivery is about to change a whole lot in Little Rock.