While pizza delivery started in Brisbane as early as 1978, the first service set up for meal delivery from restaurants was Suppertime, launched in Sydney in 1985. Suppertime was a courier service for higher-end restaurants and, according to Smart Company, mostly operated in Sydney’s affluent eastern suburbs. It expanded to Melbourne in 2015 after being acquired by the German-owned Foodora.
It was more than 20 years before the next big brand arrived in the meal delivery business. Menulog, launched in 2006, was based in Australia and New Zealand and headquartered in Sydney. It didn’t supply its own drivers and was essentially a web-based enterprise connecting restaurants, couriers and customers. A similar online portal was provided by EatNow, launched in 2007. EatNow and MenuLog merged in 2015.
In 2011, the German start-up Delivery Hero launched in Australia in competition with Menulog and EatNow. It went on to acquire Foodora in 2016, subsequently deciding to retire the Suppertime brand. The Foodora brand persisted until 2018 when it was withdrawn from Australia. Delivery Hero claimed to be the biggest meal delivery service in the world, operating in more than 300 cities globally and partnering with more than 310,000 restaurants.
The meal delivery trend gained pace from 2014 when the British-based Deliveroo launched. This was followed in 2016 by UberEATS. The sector has not been without controversy. At issue is the assertion by services like UberEATS and Foodora that drivers are not employees but contractors. The Fair Work Ombudsman has launched investigations into the so-called “gig economy” but dropped action against Foodora when it ceased operations in Australia.
Many restaurants have also become disenchanted with delivery services. UberEATS claims it has no responsibility for the drivers, loading all the risk onto the restaurant. Drivers and riders have to agree that: “I am not an employee, subcontractor or agent of Uber.” If a meal turns up cold, or the ice cream is melted, because the driver has made other deliveries along the way, it’s not Uber’s problem and the restaurant may have money deducted for providing a substandard meal. By 2019 restaurants were dropping out of the services, accusing them of being parasites on the industry.
In 2022, Deliveroo abruptly shut down its Australian operation, leaving its customers and delivery riders stunned. According to The Guardian:
Experts warn Deliveroo’s closure could be the first of several meal-delivery services to disappear due to challenging economic conditions, while prices for deliveries may rise to make the industry more sustainable.