A Moveable Feast: How Do Consumers Talk about Food Delivery?

Through obliterating the distance between consumers and restaurants, the online food delivery industry is set to reach a valuation of $126.91 billion in 2021. And, in addition to these enormous valuations, the trend has also generated a considerable amount of data.

Because while the order process itself takes place on closed interfaces available only to the companies in question, we see a plethora of different conversations take place on more public forums. These incorporate any number of interactions with the brand’s official channels, between drivers, and within distinct online communities, as individuals complain, express preferences, form affinities, and create associations.

So how to make sense of this abundance of data? This analysis hones in on three competing companies: DoorDash, Deliveroo, and the JustEat conglomerate (which also includes the US-based GrubHub and Australian Menulog).

Each of was listed as a PLC between 2020-2021 following increasing user numbers – and a corresponding lift in both recognition and engagement:

Pulsar TRAC, which leverages social, search, and news data including Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, Facebook, and Google Search, allows us to examine the conversations around these brands between November 1, 2021 and Feb 1, 2022 in greater detail, starting with disparities in SOV across the US, UK, and Australia.

Uber Eats and the Just Eat family of brands have a worldwide presence that DoorDash and Deliveroo can’t match, but the latter two dominate discussion within the US and UK respectively. In fact, DoorDash even has a respectable conversation share in the UK, thanks to pop culture detectives.

For the average consumer, these brands are not hugely differentiated from one another, which has the potential to impact brand loyalty.

In lieu of genuine novelty, we can look at the five qualities consumers associate with brands over the course of their interaction with the apps: speed, ease (the degree of friction in the delivery process), price, attitude (friendly or unfriendly drivers and customer service), and rewards (is there any benefit to brand loyalty?).

Interact with the visualisation below to see how the relationship between brand, country, and point of value or differentiation intersect (with JustEat incorporating GrubHub and Menulog):

The first and most obvious observation is how much of the chart is taken up by the US-only Doordash. This reflects the maturity of delivery services in the US. Compare this to Australia, where the market is in its relative infancy, with younger Australians driving adoption.

Back to differentiators, speed stands out as the unifying factor across brand and territory both. Clearly, customers see a quick delivery time as a motivating factor behind choosing a service, given how it impacts both food warmth and overall convenience.

There is, however, much more variance in terms of secondary priority. Within the USA, and setting speed to one side, each service is identified most with a different quality: DoorDash with ease, Uber Eats with price, and GrubHub (under Just Eat) with Rewards.

Within the UK, meanwhile, speed is not only the most cited quality, but also, in the case of both Uber Eats and Just Eat, attracts as many mentions as all other qualities combined. Only Deliveroo, the largest, bucks the trend.

Viewed alongside the greater spread of emphasis within US markets, and the Australian focus remaining very much on expediency and delivery time, it suggests that only when online conversation around a brand reaches a certain volume does speed become deemphasised.

Of course, a brand’s ability to deliver on these qualities can sometimes fall short of what the consumer expects. And, given the distance between delivery and social media apps across the width of a screen is miniscule in terms of either millimetre or pixel, it’s second nature for individuals to express instant dissatisfaction.

Once again, the relative similarity of interface and surface means a general pattern, with Quality of Service (relating to delivery time and interactions with staff), edging out Condition of Food (Cold, Spilled, or otherwise damaged) and Wrong Order.

Chart: Food Delivery. Brand Complaints.


Within this, however, various brands over-index on specific complaints. In each case, the brand itself has relatively little control over the issue at hand, which is rarely a result of technical fault and more likely human error on the part of either restaurant or delivery person. But as issues mount up, and are reported either as one-off complaints on Twitter, or else as part of continuous conversations on Reddit, brands can find themselves becoming associated with specific complaints.

Quality of service can also have a profound impact on tipping etiquette. It takes a back seat, though, to the nationality of the prospective tipper:

Clearly, the United States was always going to come out on top here, thanks to its more established culture of tipping. Australia, meanwhile, has a comparatively loosely defined tipping culture, reflected in its low showing, while many posts emanating from the UK appear related to the effects of the pandemic and an appreciation of key workers.

More illuminating is a move away from national lines and towards segmentation by affinity and behaviour. When we split the participants within the conversation by their interactions online, we see distinct communities within both the largest US conversation (Doordash) and the largest British equivalent (Deliveroo).

The main communities discussing everything Deliveroo


The main communities discussing everything Doordash


There are clear commonalities between the two. In both instances, the male:female split is approximately 60:40. President Biden and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rank as among the top influencers for both, losing out to Lil Nas X in the US, and Marcus Rashford in the UK.

The two audiences also share a clearly defined community in LinkedIn Business Bros, while in Daily Show viewers and Guardianistas, Gaymers who stream and Gay Millenial Only Fans users, Conservatives, and GB News Fans, there are clear parallels.

So what happens when we filter discussion of charges not by country, but by community?

Liberal communities contribute disproportionately to conversations around tipping, frequently critiquing brands for restricting or seizing tips.

Tipping is, naturally, not simply a matter for the consumer, but also for the driver.

And nowhere is the driver’s experience more clearly mapped than on subreddits such as r/doordashdrivers, r/deliveroos, and r/couriersofreddit. Within these forums, drivers exchange frank opinions on their day-to-day activities and perspectives on the brands who commission them, as well as pursuing more niche topics like investing money earned within trading schemes.

Negative experiences with customers occupy first place. Whether ultimate fault and accountability lie with the customer themselves, or else with the brand and its operational model, drivers use the subreddits as an opportunity to vent irritation, shame, and anger with individuals able to relate.

This sits in comparison to Twitter, which tends to host more consumer-centric content about drivers, focusing on incidents that range from humorous interactions to unionisation and collective action.

These concerns can seem quite removed from the consumer at times, particularly when they’re ordering in something of an ‘altered state’:

Deliveroo and DoorDash are the outliers here, with the latter over-indexing for drunk orders, and the former for hungover orders. The latter likely stems from the British preoccupation with ‘hangover busters’, a concept that Deliveroo itself has leaned into, while DoorDash’s association with drunkenness appears the results of anecdotes incorporating inebriated riders and monumental drunk orders.

Clearly, there are a number of motivations behind individuals and communities ordering certain foods. And, by using Pulsar’s Communities integration, we can see how specific audience segments show an affinity for specific types of cuisine.

Chart: Food Delivery. Community Food Habits.


Sidemen/YouTube Comedy Fans talk a lot about chicken. In part, this is because other prominent British YouTubers have called out their orders, each containing chicken of some type, for being late or in bad condition. Simultaneously, posters make frequent references to wings and nuggets in both anecdotes and references. Clearly, chicken is central to both this demographic’s ordering habits and online vernacular.

Both U25 Liberal Daily Show Viewers, in the US, and LinkedIn Business Bros, in the UK, express interest in grocery. But while the latter report their experiences of ordering groceries:

…the former is more likely to amplify posts that take a dimmer view of the whole enterprise and the driver-customer relationship.

As delivery brands consolidate and expand their presence globally, the gourmets, grocery shoppers, cheat-mealers, and drunk orderers who make up their user base remain unified on fundamentals (such as speed), but wildly diverge on everything from tipping etiquette to which food types end up in their order – and on their social channels.

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