As the nation has struggled to contain the spread of the coronavirus, many businesses have suffered. But some industries have not merely managed to survive the lockdowns and social distancing — these conditions have actually made them thrive.
Across the nation, food delivery services have surged in popularity since the start of the pandemic. For many restaurants forced to close their dining areas, delivery (and takeout) became a lifeline. And as many consumers tried to limit any potential exposure to the coronavirus, grocery delivery services exploded in popularity.
Both restaurant and grocery delivery boomed in the Seattle metro area.
According to data from market-research giant Nielsen, the number of Seattle-area households using restaurant-delivery services like Grubhub and UberEats jumped by about 90%.
Before the pandemic, 226,000 Seattle-area households had used a restaurant-delivery service in the past 30 days. Once the pandemic hit, that number jumped to 429,000 — that represents more than one quarter of the total households (27%) in our metro area, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
The spike in the use of grocery-delivery services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh has been even more dramatic. Before the pandemic, only about 68,000 households had used any of these services in the past 30 days. That figure more than doubled to 179,000, which is more than 11% of area households, once the pandemic took hold.
The Seattle area had some of the largest increases in the use of these delivery services, and ranks near the top among the 50 largest metro areas.
The San Francisco area ranks No. 1 for restaurant-delivery service use, at about 32% of households. Seattle ranks sixth. And for grocery delivery, the Orlando metro tops the list at 14%. Seattle ties for seventh with the Hartford, Connecticut, metro.
These delivery services are a convenience, and during a pandemic, also a comfort, letting customers limit potential virus exposure.
Matt Neuman, who delivers groceries for Instacart in Seattle, says there’s never been a shortage of orders since he began working for the service last year. Neuman found food delivery a good way to support himself after moving to Seattle in July 2020 from Missoula, Montana.
Neuman has wondered whether customers value his services less than they did at the height of the pandemic. In the last couple of months, for the first time, he has received some four-star ratings (customers rate the deliveries on a five-star scale).
He says the lower ratings could be because a lot of items have been out of stock lately, to the annoyance of his customers. But he also speculates that customers are less appreciative of his service these days than they once were.
“They felt I was putting my life on the line” to make deliveries back then, he said.
The handful of four-star ratings has brought Neuman’s perfect five-star score down to 4.85. It may not sound like a big deal, but he says his hourly pay has dropped by roughly 30%. (At his peak, he says he was averaging around $47 per hour).
Like most conveniences, these delivery services come with a cost, such as delivery fees, service or subscription fees, and tips. So it’s not surprising that more affluent folks tend to use these services.
According to Nielsen, the median income for a Seattle-area household that used a restaurant-delivery service was $97,000, and for households that used a grocery-delivery service, it was $110,000. Both those figures are significantly higher than the median income for all Seattle-area households, which was around $82,000.
Even though millions of people are vaccinated now, and many have returned to restaurant dining and in-store grocery shopping, food delivery is expected to remain much more popular than it was before the pandemic.
Nielsen surveyed close to 2,800 people in the Seattle metro area during the pandemic (February 2020 to February 2021), and a similar number from the same period one year earlier.