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Last Updated on June 6, 2021

Did you know that on a given day, 6% of Americans order takeout? [1] That's almost 20 million meals!

Ordering takeout and home delivery of food has become second nature for Americans – but when did food delivery start? What are the trends telling? And why do so many people enjoy outsourcing their cooking?

In this article, we'll take the pulse on the giant food delivery industry in our country and how it has evolved throughout the years. We'll also uncover when and where takeout began – you may be surprised to know the answer!

So... When Did Food Delivery Start?

Ancient Rome

You've heard us right – takeout of food started already in ancient Rome (753 BC – 476 AD)! Cities like Pompeii in southern Italy had fast food restaurants called Thermopolium, where meals were served buffet style out of clay pots to keep them hot. Not too different from today's fast food restaurants! [2]

Home Delivery of Milk and Meat

Milk delivery started in 1785 as the United States began its industrialization. Before that, most people had their own cattle and milk supply, but as more and more people moved away from rural areas, they started to buy milk from local farmers. And since the refrigerator wasn't yet a thing, they needed fresh bottles of milk daily, leading to the wake of the milk delivery service in the US. [3]

During the 14th century in Paris, butchers used to send their meats to the homes of the Parisian aristocrats. [4]

The Royals of Italy

When did pizza delivery begin? The world's first known pizza delivery happened in Italy in 1889. The royal couple King Umberto and Queen Margherita visited Naples to calm down a revolutionary vibe due to the uniting of the country a couple of years earlier.

A famous pizza baker, Raffaele Esposito, got the honor of preparing food for the king and queen since Her Majesty was allegedly sick of the heavy, French-inspired foods considered suitable for royal taste buds.

But even a queen has her limits – eating at the local pizzeria was not an option, so Esposito delivered the pizza as soon as it was ready. The pizza had the colors of the Italian flag: red tomatoes, green basil leaves, and white mozzarella cheese.

To the chef's delight, the queen was happy with the result and the pizza was named Pizza Margherita as a tribute to its first consumer. [5]

Indian Dabbawalas

Dabbawalas started in Mumbai [6] towards the end of the 19th century, to provide blue-collar workers with lunch. This service still exists in some Indian cities, though it has been modernized by the possibility to order through your phone.

WWII

1939-1945, WWII ravaged the world, and the British people were seeking shelter from bombs. To ensure they still got fed, the British government came up with a food delivery system that became so popular it kept going even when the war subsided. The food delivery services later spread to the United States and Australia. [7]

Fast Food Delivery

With the introduction of the television in the 1950s, restaurant owners in the United States saw a decline in visitors since people preferred to sit at home and watch TV while eating. To cover for this loss, restaurants started takeout and home delivery of meals – a service that quickly gained in popularity. [8]

A few years before, soldiers came back from the war in Europe, and many had developed a taste for pizza. Pizzerias started home delivery as a convenient option for people living far from a pizza place. A pizza restaurant in Los Angeles, Casa d'Amore, was the first spot to offer free delivery for meals over $2.5. Los Angeles was ahead of its time already decades ago. [8]

Due to the increased demand, New York Times explained this new popular dish “pizza” as “a pie made from a yeast dough and filled with any number of different centers, each one containing tomatoes." [8]

Food Trucks

The concept of food trucks was born out of a need to provide workers on job sites with food. It developed into a popular way of having food on the go and is a great option for aspiring restaurants to test the waters before launching a real restaurant with all the costs it incurs. [9]

Ordering Food Online

In the '90s, the first websites for ordering pizza and other meals online started. While it was initially met with skepticism, major player GrubHub launched in 2004, followed by UberEATS a couple of years later.

Meal Kits

Meal kit companies offer delivery services sending you recipes together with all the ingredients you need. This is a good option for those wanting the joy of cooking, without the tedious tours to the grocery store, meal planning, and prepping. In 2007, meal kit delivery services started to spread in the United States, and in 2019 it was valued at USD 7.60 billion [10].

Fresh Meal Delivery

Around 2013, the concept of fresh meal delivery sprung, offering pre-cooked meals that the recipient can just heat and eat – reducing preparation time to about 3 minutes in the micro oven. Perfect for busy people all over embracing the New York lifestyle! Today, there are many meal delivery companies offering frozen or fresh meals catering to all kinds of diets.

What's Next?

The meal kit delivery service is expected to grow 12.8% per year from 2020 to 2027! [10] Especially after the global pandemic, restaurants see a drop in visitors, and online food ordering has gained territory. Food delivery is definitely here to stay and take over the world and our plates.

FAQ

Which food delivery service came first?

If we talk about online food delivery, a site called World Wide Waiter was launched in 1995. The site was a platform allowing hungry people to order food from restaurants in their area. It still exists under the name waiter.com.

When did GrubHub start delivery?

GrubHub started delivery from restaurants to households in 2004.

How long has pizza delivery been around?

The first restaurant known to deliver pizza was Esposito's Pizzeria in Naples, where chef Raffaele Esposito delivered the world's first Pizza Margherita from his restaurant to Queen Margherita, who was visiting the city. The first pizzeria in the United States was founded in New York in 1905. Pizza chains like Pizza Hut started delivery of pizza in the '50s.

Conclusion

From the ancient Romans to ready-to-eat meals, delivery of food has closely followed the evolution of humanity and technology. Many pizzas have been delivered since the first pizza delivery in 1889 – and with our modern lifestyle, where dishes on demand have become deeply ingrained in our everyday lives, takeout and delivery will continue to be the modern version of going for a hunt when hunger hits.

References

[1] https://www.fourth.com/resource/truth-about-dining-out-infographic, as seen on Sept 14, 2020

[2] https://www.businessinsider.nl/fast-food-ancient-rome-history-2018-4, as seen on Sept 14, 2020

[3] http://www.drinkmilkinglassbottles.com/a-quick-history-home-milk-delivery, as seen on Sept 14, 2020

[4] M. Toussaint-Samat. (Sept 28 1994), A History of Food, Oxford: Blackwell Reference

[5] N. Danford. (October 1994), Beyond Pizza, Vegetarian Times. Active Interest Media

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/business/worldbusiness/29lunch.html?_r=0, as seen on Sept 14, 2020

[7] P. J. Atkins. (2011), Communal Feeding in War-Time: British Restaurants, 1940-1947 In Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska; et al. (eds.). Food and War in Twentieth Century Europe

[8] https://time.com/4291197, as seen on Sept 14, 2020

[9] https://mobile-cuisine.com/business/history-of-american-food-trucks/, as seen on Sept 14, 2020

[10] https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/meal-kit-delivery-services-market, as seen on Sept 14, 2020

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Hi, I'm Paul. Welcome to my website! I, along with my cronies, are leveraging our years of working in the food industry to review meal and drink delivery services. We review. You eat happily ever after.

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