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October 28, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Get restaurant meals delivered with new Caviar startup

Courier photo courtesy of Caviar

Courier photo courtesy of Caviar

Wish your favorite restaurant delivered? Maybe it does now, via online company Caviar, which specializes in home or business deliveries from highly-rated restaurants — both budget and premium places — that don’t otherwise offer the service.

Caviar went live in Seattle a few weeks ago, after starting up in San Francisco last year and then spreading to Manhattan. The initial 16 Seattle restaurants on board include Cafe Lago and Skillet Counter, Root Table and Senor Moose, Wild Ginger and Gorditos. No cash changes hands; all the money is dealt with online, and there’s a $9.99 flat fee for orders, which includes tip. The delivery area map is here (no West Seattle and no Rainier Valley, though cofounder Jason Wang said the company may expand the boundaries and may also take it to the Eastside.)

Seattle already has online ordering with Grubhub and some restaurant delivery (generally with a lot of advance notice, and requiring you to reheat or reassemble food) via Amazon Fresh, plus food delivery options from courier service Postmates, but Caviar has unique features.

“Our sole focus is on restaurants, all of our delivery drivers are trained to handle food,” Wang said. There are photographs of every restaurant dish on the site, and it’s possible to customize orders down to, say, ordering a “wet” and spicy Gorditos burrito. (Sadly, there’s no baby lying next to the burrito in the online photo to show how big it really is.)

Orders can either be placed on-demand or can be set up to six days in advance. There’s GPS tracking to see how far away your food is. A particularly nice feature to my eye, and to anyone who has lived to regret asking officemates “I’m running out for lunch, want anything?” is a “group” option where friends or co-workers can share an online cart. It’s also possible to set a per-person budget for the shared carts. (Can you imagine how useful all that would be for coffee runs?)

The idea for the company came from working in San Francisco at a previous food-related startup, Wang said. “None of the good restaurants delivered, and we got tired of the food that was within three blocks. We asked ourselves, why do none of these restaurants deliver?… We decided to build a solution for ourselves.”

The restaurants they approach generally match current food trends and have a high number of good reviews on sites like Urbanspoon and on Yelp, though the latter is “less popular in Seattle,” Wang said. He and others in the company have also visited or lived in Seattle, and have some familiarity with where to eat here. When restaurants have declined to participate, he said, the main reason has been because the kitchens were too small. “We had one restaurant that only had one stove, it could only serve 4 people at a time. If we sent them an order of five items it would cripple them.”

I would guess other restaurants that don’t think their food travels well and don’t offer it to-go also wouldn’t be interested.

The inevitable question: Is this another Kozmo? How will they make a profit?

Caviar gets a cut from participating restaurants in addition to the delivery fee, Wang said, but that’s not the only difference.

“Kozmo offered free deliveries forever and they built out warehouses that cost tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions. We really don’t carry any inventory…so we don’t spend any money on that up front.”

“We’re already profitable in San Francisco, we’ll break even in Seattle in probably 2-3 months.”

Interested? The site’s advertising free deliveries through Nov. 1.

Any restaurants you’d like to see on their list?

Comments | Topics: Amazon Fresh, Caviar, Jason Wang


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