Guide to the city's online food courier services

Digital food couriers are taking off with the arrival of several newcomers, promising diners a wide variety of takeaway menus and to-the-door delivery. We put them to the test.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 August, 2014, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 1:47pm

Digital food couriers have become big business in recent years. Foodpanda, for example, German company Rocket Internet's global restaurant aggregator, recently attracted US$60 million in growth funding from new and existing investors. The service, which expanded recently to include Hong Kong, enables diners to order takeaway through its mobile app.

The arrival of Foodpanda, along with several other online food ordering services, is fuelling a trend in the city. Local diners are developing an appetite for these services because they promise greater convenience and access to a wide variety of restaurant menus.

Ordering online, instead of by phone, also means waving goodbye to frustrating language barriers and having to sift through countless paper menus.

Rohan Muralee, who works in insurance, is a regular user of "The vast majority of the restaurants do not deliver independently, so if you want food at home, then you can get it from almost anywhere using this service." The Tsim Sha Tsui resident also finds ordering takeaway cheaper than cooking with quality ingredients at home.

Didier Bensadoun, president of newcomer expects more urban professionals in Hong Kong to embrace the online service, which he says is growing increasingly busy here and in other cities such as New York and London.

Dining operators also have reasons for getting behind the trend. "High rents for businesses make it imperative that they source customers elsewhere, particularly online where their customers are increasingly spending their time," says Bensadoun.

Below, we test some new takeaway operators and compare them to a tried and tested phone-order-based delivery service.

FOODPANDA This large restaurant aggregator has a presence in several countries. Order with your smartphone.

Food Despite having only launched recently here, its dining directory is already impressive.

A Mid-Levels resident can order from more than 80 menus, including items you'd never think would be available for delivery. This includes the lobster-centred paella (HK$289) from La Terra in Sai Ying Pun (a venue serving Spanish and Italian dishes) that arrived piping hot since it was delivered in a still-warm paella pan.

This easily fed four hungry mouths, even though it was advertised for two. In contrast, the pork ribs with fries (HK$165) were not a delivery-friendly item: the contents were dry, and the wilted salad looked unappealing.

Service and delivery First-time users will find the app ordering process time-consuming, as there are many steps from registration to order confirmation. The beauty of this app is in the many filters that help narrow your food search; for example, sorting the merchants by review ratings. Users can access past orders, making repeat orders easier. At present, mobile payment transactions are not available, an option that would make this service more convenient. The estimated delivery time of the meal was 60 minutes, but it arrived in 50 minutes. Value for money No different from dining at the restaurant. Foodpanda adds 10 per cent to your food bill.


DELIVERY.COM The service, which launched recently, only delivers to offices, but home deliveries should be available next year.

Food With more than 50 menus available, the selection is eclectic and includes many healthy options, and independent operators such as stand-alone Japanese takeaway merchant Sugo Sushi-to-Go. Meals from Jang Korean Restaurant and Lounge were fantastic, especially the stewed beef short rib set (HK$228). The meat was tender and sweet, with a soy sauce base, and came with rice and a jellyfish salad.

The beef stone pot bibimbap set (HK$148) was also a hit, a tasty and slightly spicy combination of vegetables, meat, rice and egg, served with spinach broth.

Service and delivery The online-ordering process needs refining. Creating an account not only involves filling in an online form but a separate email dialogue with the company. This process should have been consolidated onto one platform. Also, users can't access past orders online.

if you want food at home, then you can get it from almost anywhere using this service
Rohan Muralee, customer

The meal packaging, however, was excellent: clean and neatly organised meals that arrived with no mess. Since this service caters to multiple orders in the same office, users can provide the name of the person ordering each set. Each bag was labelled with the correct name in our test run.

Although delivery times vary per merchant, this order arrived in two hours as pledged.

Value for money No different from dining at the restaurant. But the minimum order threshold is high at HK$500 per order plus a 10 per cent charge.

INVISIBLE KITCHEN Offers healthily prepared meals from chef Tom Burney, who is also behind the catering service Hong Kong Personal Chef.

Food The menu of about 30 items of familiar, mostly Western comfort fare, includes British classics such as shepherd's pie, as well as more international options.

Health-orientated customers may like the labelling of the pre-made meals, showcasing their nutritional content and ingredients, which other services don't offer.

After reheating the meal in the microwave as advised, the Norwegian salmon fillet with soy sauce (HK$110) was moist and lightly seasoned but the rice portion was small. Similarly, the Moroccan lamb tagine was bland and came with only a few spoonfuls of herbed rice (HK$110).

Service and delivery The website's user-friendly design makes ordering easy, with filters to help narrow your meal choice. The package arrived clean and mess-free. The containers had individual compartments (it was the only delivery service we tried that offered them), so the food stayed in place.

The company's policy is for users to order before midday for next-day delivery. But I ordered late and they still managed to courier the meal the following day.

Value for money Fair for healthy, organic preparations, which averaged HK$100 per meal.


FOOD BY FONE (tel: 2868 6969) A veteran in the takeaway service business in Hong Kong, Food by Fone features an extensive restaurant delivery directory. Unfortunately, it's compiled mostly from Hong Kong Island venues, so consumers elsewhere are out of luck. It was a little frustrating ordering each dish by a three-digit code. But it only took a few minutes to order.

Food Menus from almost 40 restaurants are available for delivery, but merchants are mostly big restaurant groups in major dining districts. But there are interesting finds available, including Indian eatery Palki in Tin Hau, which offers great value food.

All the curries arrived generously portioned, including the delectable spinach and Indian fresh cheese curry palak paneer (HK$65). But the prawns for the coconut-based Jhenga Malai (HK$85) were minuscule.

Service and delivery All of the dishes arrived in standard takeaway plastic or styrofoam boxes, in messy fashion (including the curry-splashed receipt). But the food arrived on time - estimated delivery time was 85 minutes and it came in 50.

Value for money Same as other food courier services with 10 per cent charged on top of the food bill. Users can get better value by making price comparisons of menus and ordering food from operators outside the main dining districts. The minimum spend was also low at HK$100 for Palki.