The Food Delivery App Turf War in Maine

May 19, 2018

Food delivery app companies GrubHub and Uber Eats are entering a turf war in Maine. As they both try to win customers in the southern part of the state, they have an entrenched competitor to contend with too – the local guy.

If you're feeling peckish, the food delivery apps make it pretty easy to tap into Portland's dynamic foodie scene – a few taps on your smartphone, choose a restaurant, choose from the menu that pops up, authorize a payment – including a delivery fee – and, maybe a half hour later you can expect your order.

2DineIn is one of these apps, and it has been connecting customers and restaurants in Greater Portland for a decade. Ben Besanko has been a part-time driver for 2DineIn since February. He says in about 15 hours per week driving his Jeep wrangler from restaurant to customer, he makes more than $200 in tips and salary, supplementing his regular job at Hannaford.

"It's pretty fun actually, you see a lot of people, experience a lot of new restaurants,” he says. “I'm from Gorham, I didn't know a whole lot about Portland, so now I know a little bit more."

2DineIn “started very small, ridiculously nose to the grindstone for along time," says the CEO Mike Bolduc. Bolduc is a Norridgewock native. He says 2DineIn started as a desktop venture and morphed into a smartphone app about five years ago. It has been growing slowly, and he has 60 employees, part and full time, with almost 100 restaurants signed up now.

"So right now we do all of Portland, all of South Portland, all of Cape Elizabeth,” he says. “We do Falmouth, Foreside, Scarborough down to Haggis Parkway, Route 1. So pretty good area."

It's quickly becoming a more crowded space, though. National food delivery app GrubHub started business in Maine three weeks ago, and this week, Uber Eats started delivering as well. The companies have, in recent months, been taking their battle beyond the major metro areas.

Bolduc says when he heard the national businesses might be making a play here, he was worried his company might be caught in the crossfire – at first.

"A little scary, just because we never had that. But now that they're here, trying to use this as a platform even more,” he says.

Bolduc has redoubled his efforts to sign up new restaurants, but the big guys are knocking on doors too. That includes the Flatbread Company, a popular pizza place on Portland's waterfront, where Thomas Cancelliere is general manager.

"GrubHub approached us, and we were definitely willing to give it a try and see how it worked. So we were part of their initial launch,” Cancelliere says.

Cancelliere's been working with 2DineIn for years, and he says outsourcing delivery to the local company adds measurably to sales, making the 2DineIn's 20 percent cut a good investment. He says that even though GrubHub takes a slightly bigger cut, it's worthwhile experimenting with both, because GrubHub fills a niche.

"When people travel, stay in hotels, travel for business, things like that, if they're already using GrubHub in their market, when they come to Portland, they're already familiar with it."

There are logistical challenges to working with GrubHub, challenges which have Flatbread holding off on adopting Uber Eats as well, Canciellere says. The national companies each depend on proprietary tablets to interface with customers and the restaurants, forcing the restaurant to use them – and train workers with them - even though the restaurant already uses Apple iPads for their own business, which 2DineIn also uses.

And there's a larger issue at play as well, he say. Buying local is a big part of Flatbread's ethic, from plumbers to fuel services to, of course, local brews and spirits.

"We did really heavily think about the aspect of 2DineIn being our local affiliate here on the ground, and they have a local presence,” he says. “They know the roads, they know the streets, they know the restaurants. Mike and I are good friends."

It's that kind if neighborly partisanship that's keeping Bolduc optimistic, even while in some other larger other markets, Uber Eats and GrubHub have absorbed local delivery startups.

"We have advantages that they can't offer, because we know this community, because we are so attached to it,” Bolduc says. In emailed statements, GrubHub and Uber Eats both testified to the convenience and variety they offer, but did not immediately provide further comment. GrubHub is offering an initial enticement its Portland competitors aren't – free delivery until the end of the month.