How Vancouver’s Food.ee is disrupting corporate catering

“Everything in corporate catering tastes like chicken pesto, and that’s the problem we’re solving”

 
Food.ee's drivers go straight from restaurant to delivery site, and know what's in the boxes they're carrying. (Food.ee)
Food.ee’s drivers understand what’s in the delivery boxes and lay out the food on-site. (Food.ee)

The life of an executive assistant is a thankless one. Between scheduling meetings, triaging phone calls and managing paperwork, there’s little room for failure and a high risk of incurring the boss’s wrath if they do.

But Jon Cartwright believes one activity tops the list of stressful EA duties: organizing corporate catering. “This is the most important time in their day, when they’re ordering food for everybody,” he claims. “The anxiety for this, we always joke, begins at 11 am. ‘Will the food be on time? The meeting’s at 12, oh my god. The one person with a nut allergy, have they been taken care of?’”

That stressed EA is the most important person in the office for Cartwright, the co-founder and chairman of the Vancouver-based delivery service Food.ee. Food.ee allows users to order food from upmarket restaurants on its website, app or through a phone concierge system. Most orders must be placed 24 hours in advance, with double that amount of notice required for orders above 25 people. Food.ee levies a $15 service fee, and in exchange customers get the peace-of-mind of knowing their catering will arrive on time and as they ordered it.

Online food delivery services are hardly novel, but unlike services more focused on home delivery like JustEats or OrderIt, Food.ee focuses on the corporate market and sources its food from tony restaurants that don’t normally deliver. Currently operating in Vancouver, Toronto, and Burnaby, B.C., the service will expand into Austin and Philadelphia this summer with plans for further U.S. expansion thereafter.

Earlier this month, Food.ee won the pitch competition portion of Tech Shuk, a showcase and networking event designed to highlight Canadian and Israeli startups and entrepreneurs organized by JNF Futures. Cartwright’s company was the unanimous selection of the five competition judges, a panel which included Daniel Klass of Klass Capital, Matthew Golden of Golden Venture Partners, Matthew Leibowitz of Plaza Ventures, entrepreneur Yishay Waxman and Ben Zlotnick of INcubes.

Consumer delivery services generate relatively small receipts and their orders tend to coincide with the lunch and dinner rush, says Food.ee CEO Ryan Spong. He should know: Spong first began working with Food.ee when the service wanted to partner with TacoFino Cantina, his Vancouver restaurant and taco truck business. Popular restaurants don’t need that extra traffic during peak periods, so Food.ee allows them to turn their considerable downtime around the lunch and dinner rushes into dollars. “These are large, meaningful, off-peak orders,” says Spong. “In some cases we’re able to double people’s lunch rushes and revenues.”

The service’s average order size is $250, compared with about $30 for consumer services. But money alone isn’t enough to convince high-cachet restaurants like Toronto’s Terroni or Vancouver’s Meat & Bread to do delivery. “The reason they don’t want to deliver is that they’re worried you can’t give someone that experience outside of the four walls,” explains Cartwright.

Food.ee gets over this reluctance with a high-touch customer experience—doubly handy because the companies footing the bill tend to be demanding corporations like Goldman Sachs, Telus, Goldcorp and EY. There’s a direct line from restaurant to customer—no multi-stop deliveries. Users can track their orders online, and receive a courtesy call 10 minutes before scheduled delivery if things aren’t on schedule. “The driver is highly trained on what’s going on inside the boxes, so they understand what the food is,” explains Spong. “White shirt and red bowtie—that’s our look. It’s very much a curated, almost like a waiter experience.”

The company has impressive roots and backers. Cartwright started Food.ee in 2011 out of Invoke Media, the Vancouver digital agency that spawned Hootsuite, whose founder Ryan Holmes is an investor in Food.ee and a member of its board. Spong joined in 2013, and became CEO the following year. And Food.ee is taking its expansion innovation from another Vancouver startup done good: 1-800-GOT-JUNK. Former JUNK COO Laurie Baggio invested in Food.ee last year, and then decided to lend his expertise to the operational side of the business. “He came on and worked in our office for six months straight, getting our business set to scale rapidly,” explains Spong.

Another form of recognition is the eagerness of big players to enter the space. Rideshare service Uber recently launched UberEATS in Toronto, using the downtime of its drivers to deliver from local restaurants. The winner in the new corporate catering wars will probably be the service that earns the loyalty of the most EAs. “The budget they control is often in the seven figures,” says Cartwright. “It’s a very strongly cohesive market. In the office at the watercooler the office managers and EAs all talk to one another.”

Spong says Food.ee makes an effort to recognize these under-appreciated but vital workers. “If she’s ordering for a meeting that she’s not attending, we’ll include a meal for her,” he explains. “She’ll order for everybody and then have to brown bag it because no one takes care of her or thinks of her.” It’s always a good idea to be nice to the most important person in your customer’s office.

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