Food at the click of a mouse
THE hunger for consumer convenience has spawned a new entrant on the increasingly competitive dinner-delivery circuit.
A Web site launched this week - but temporarily suspended to iron out computer glitches - lets couch potatoes and late-night office workers choose meals to be delivered from nine local restaurants by clicking on a cyber-menu and e-mailing an order.
The birth of XpressAsia.com follows the launch of Dial a Dinner gourmet delivery service last year, and the success of Lan Kwai Fong-based Food by Fone, begun five years ago.
'People are getting busier and busier. They don't have time to wander around and look for restaurants, or they're busy at work and want decent food,' XpressAsia.com director Chris King said.
'Now they won't need to order a pizza when they want food delivered.' Mr King, whose Web site also lets consumers buy flowers, cigars, birthday cakes and arrange for their dirty laundry to be washed, said he was hoping to get 100 orders a day to begin with.
'But I have the feeling that I might be swamped.' Richard Feldman, chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Association and founder of Food by Fone, said XpressAsia was not a threat but a sign of growth in the delivery market.
'The more we can get people into the psychology of ordering through the line, if it helps people to think of the Net when they're ordering food, it will help our business,' he said.
'What we, Dial a Dinner and XpressAsia, have to do is get people to stop thinking just of Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut.
'If it gets people on to the Web, it will help us.' Mr Feldman said Food by Fone, which did between 1,000 and 2,000 deliveries a week, provided menus online and would soon let diners order via e-mail. But he said most customers had said they would prefer to use the phone because they could make special requests - like 'hold the onions'.
Domino's Pizza managing director Jon White said that while other delivery services had a wider range of dishes on offer, pizza had its advantages and was coping well despite the boom in options for customers.
'Our delivery is guaranteed in 30 minutes - that makes us pretty convenient,' he said.
'If they want it to be there in 30 minutes and the quality of the product to be consistent, we achieve that nearly all of the time, and it's hot when it gets there.' He said business was not suffering as a result of the increased competition.
'Obviously there are two major companies specialising in pizza, but there's always been some competition.
'It's just a question of how widespread their distribution is. We cover nearly all of the territory.' The three gourmet services target affluent residents of Central, Mid-Levels, Causeway Bay and Happy Valley - who could afford to dine out instead.
'It's not taking away business from the restaurants, because if you don't want to go out, you don't want to go out,' Mr Feldman said.
'Sales are up when people are working late or it's raining. In the restaurant business, it's the opposite.' Mr King said: 'The restaurant offers an atmosphere we can't replace and we're not trying to.
'It's just providing more choices.' Mr King said the Web site would be relaunched soon.