Not-So-Fast Food

If you’re like me, you’re prepping meals at home more often than you used to.  Your grocery lists are electronic or paper instead of in your head.  You may even be meal-planning and on your way to becoming America’s next gourmet chef.  But no matter the approach eventually you succumb to food out instead of food in.  “Taking away” meals these days means navigating an app, a website, a drive-thru, a phone call, or for the really daring, an unscheduled appearance at the front doors.  You never know which approach works until you try a couple.  Sometimes you simply give up.

Case in point.  Last Friday we took my wife’s truck for a service – scheduled just after sun-up. Leaving the house so early meant breakfast would be out instead of in.  My first thought?  McDonald’s.  An Egg McMuffin is still a pretty good on-the-go breakfast, and navigating McDonald’s hasn’t changed (drive thru, pay at the window, drive away, enjoy).  I also admit to a soft spot for the Golden Arches because I worked there in high school.

My wife had other ideas.  Since a breakfast sandwich was the order of the day she wanted Einstein Brothers Bagels, and with good reason.  Einstein’s offers a choice of five “classic” breakfast sandwiches and another seven “signature” specials: twelve different spins on bagels and eggs.  While Egg McMuffins are assembled from just four mass-produced ingredients, Einstein’s creations are made-to-order adventures with options like chorizo, avocado, spinach, and mushrooms.  If the choice is Einstein’s or McDonald’s it’s a no-brainer.  Except now.

“Save time?” I beg to differ.

Not knowing Einstein’s take-away approach during COVID, I parked in front of the restaurant while my wife went inside to place the order.  Nope.  Einstein’s allows two options: DoorDash or order from the app.  Well blast my bagels – DoorDash doesn’t even deliver to our neighborhood so it was either the app or go hungry.  Fine.  A quick download and I went in search of the “Order” button.  Nope.  Einstein’s wants an account first – phone number, email, birthday, credit card, and so on.  Fine.  At last we assembled our on-line order and I went in search of the “Pay” button.  Nope.  Einstein’s makes you bank a minimum balance first (and welcome to “Shmear Society Rewards”).  Really?  A cash reserve for a breakfast sandwich?  Once and for all, nope.  I X’d out of the app, deleted it from my phone, and left a skid mark or two as I accelerated away.

“McDelivery?” Not necessary.

McDonald’s was also on the way home, a couple miles up the road.  We didn’t have their app either but so what?  Order at the drive-thru, pay at the window, drive away with an Egg McMuffin, enjoy.  We even splurged on hash browns (and an order of breakfast sausage for the dog).  A McDonald’s breakfast for two people and a pet costs far less than a similar order at Einstein’s.  Was my Egg McMuffin forgettable?  Yes.  Did I consume my sandwich within minutes of leaving the restaurant?  Yes (today’s Egg McMuffin is smaller than your palm).  Did I wish I’d had a custom-made Einstein’s instead?  Of course.  But not if I must jump through a bunch of electronic hoops to get one.

I want to support restaurants through the COVID pandemic; I really do.  Our favorite Mexican place has nothing electronic, so you just place a phone order and take-away fifteen minutes later.  Our favorite coffeehouse is a converted bank, so it’s drive-thru, pay, and go, lickety-split.  That’s all I’m asking for: simple process, no hoops.

Einstein’s theory of relativity assumes accelerated motion (say, a car pulling away from a restaurant with an order of food).  Einstein’s Bagels requires decelerated motion (say, the unanticipated time to download, setup, and bank-load their app).  Take your pick: Einstein’s approach or Einstein Brothers’ approach?  For me, it’s Albert’s way every time.

Supply Chain Reaction

My neighbor to the north – the one with a mansion lording over the rest of the hood from the highest point around – hosts equestrian events on weekends. Whether reining or cutting competitions, or “quaint” social gatherings, his barn and surrounds burst with dozens of horses and riders just about every Saturday. His property is large enough we’re pretty far removed from the hubbub, except the convoy of horse trailers and trucks barreling down the street beforehand. The wheels rumbling over the washboardy dirt road and balloons of dust floating high overhead are hard to ignore.

Maybe you don’t have a parade of horse trailers in your neighborhood (or a washboardy road), but guess what?  You do have a procession of vehicles making their way to your driveway, and the list of participants is growing.  Home delivery is the latest block party where everybody seems to have an invite.

In the 1970’s the only vehicles coming up our driveway were the red, white, and blue jeeps of the United States Post Office (USPS) or the brown, boxy trucks of the United Parcel Service (UPS).  Then Federal Express vans (FedEx) joined in with a little purple and green, while DHL (the initials of the three founders’ last names) added a healthy dollop of yellow.  Taste the rainbow!

 That’s a pretty good line-up right there, but in the last decade or so home delivery (or “last mile delivery”, to use the trendier term) picked up several more players.  Amazon (black vans with a blue “swoosh” on the side) and WalMart (several colors) extended their supply chain by adding home delivery trucks.  Your pizza guy has been joined by restaurant delivery of all kinds, like DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats.  AmazonFresh is competing with your local grocery store to make sure you consider home delivery of products from Whole Foods.

Here are a few of the more “colorful” entries coming soon to a driveway near you:

  • Postmates – Pizza, prescriptions, shoes, and tech products, just to name a few Postmates delivery favorites.  What makes Postmates unique?  They’re not affiliated with any business or product line.  If you need it, they’ll find it.
  • LuggageForward – Boasts “doorstep pickup”, so all you worry about is transporting you from your home to your travel destination.  LuggageForward guarantees your bags arrive before you do, and their “shipping experts” track your items every step of the way.
  • Piggybee – Just like LuggageForward, except you’re entrusting your luggage or other item to a random person who happens to be traveling to your destination anyway.  Sounds a little dicey, but isn’t the name great?
  • Entrusters – The opposite of Piggybee, but the same concept.  You find something you want to buy in a distant locale, and the random person who happens to be traveling to your city brings it to you.
  • goPuff – A “convenience store caterer”, tempting you with products like that pint of Ben & Jerry’s you don’t really need.  Perfect for college students?  Yes, and the company was started by college students.  “goPuff”?  No clue.
  • Drizly – Not only wine, beer, and liquor to your door inside of an hour, but also all the mixers, garnishes, and supplies you need to make your party tipsy.  Hopefully you’re not the only one at the party.  Hopefully your Drizly driver doesn’t partake in whatever he or she delivers.
  • Stitch Fix – A competitor to Nordstrom’s Trunk Club, Stitch Fix offers a stylist and all the designer clothes you could ever want.  Try them on and keep ’em or return ’em within three days.  Might as well close the doors on your local shopping mall.
  • Washio – Just what you would guess: home-delivery wash, dry, and dry-cleaning of your wardrobe.  Your hamper just moved to the front door!  Washio’s “ninjas” pick up and drop off inside of 24 hours, and even leave a cookie on top of the clean-clothes bag.  Sadly, Washio lasted less than three years; it’s founders claiming, “sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t”.

As we speak, many of these deliverers are hopping the fence into each other’s domains.  Postmates is test-marketing convenience store items in New York City, sourcing from 150+ Walgreens and Duane Reades.  Doordash is trying out same-day grocery delivery in 22 states.  AmazonFresh distinguishes itself as food delivery with its lime-green (not black) vans.

With so many entrants in the home delivery circus, it’s fair to say the concept is still in its infancy.  We’ll need several years to see who and what will ultimately come out in the wash (clearly, not Washio).  But mark my words, you can always count on someone to rain on the parade.  Amazon is already experimenting with “Prime Air”, a drone-service.  In other words, home delivery may be a little less grounded in the future.

Some content sourced from the 10/2/19 Wall Street Journal article, “Postmates, DoorDash Want to Deliver Your Groceries, Too”.

Hot Little Numbers

Yesterday, I became reacquainted with “hack” – a harsh bit of a word.  On the one hand, hack is when you take big chops into a tree with your ax.  Nothing wrong with that. Hack is also whether you can cope with a given situation (i.e. “can you hack it?”).  Nothing wrong with that either.  But then again, hack is uncontrollable coughing caused by a bad cold.  Or even worse, hack is breaking into a computer or account, with not-so-nice intentions.

I experienced not-so-nice hack yesterday.  My wife and I are waging war with a cold we’ve had since Easter.  Together we’re coughing up a storm (sounds of thunder).  More to the subject at hand, our bank left a tidy little message on our answering machine last night. “…do we have reason to suspect fraudulent charges on our Visa card?”  So, I logged onto our account and scrolled down to the last couple of days of activity.  There the little devils hid – six small charges, all for the food-delivery service “DoorDash“.

Have I ever used DoorDash? (No.) Do I even know what DoorDash is? (I do now.) I have no use for DoorDash, nor them for me.  We live in the country; wide, open spaces in every direction.  The only way we get pizza delivery is to agree to meet the driver halfway.  The only way we get trash service is to pay “fuel surcharges” on top of the monthly bill.  We’re too far out for DoorDash.  Just for grins, I entered our address into DoorDash’s website and up popped my options.  Cool!  For thirty days I get free service on delivery orders above $10.  Not cool – I have zero nearby restaurants offering DoorDash.  Guess its pizza for dinner again tonight.

Data Source: FTC Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2016

But I digress.  Back to the hack.  To my bank’s “credit”, they handle minor fraud efficiently.  They noticed the hack before I did (bless their computer algorithms).  Once I called back and denied any knowledge of DoorDash, they blocked my card and promptly dropped a new one into the mail.  A few days from now, I’ll be off and charging again, the only real inconvenience being to update my linked accounts.

I wish I could leave it at that.  After all, this incident won’t cost me a penny.  Those who pay annual fees and interest charges unknowingly pay the cost of credit card fraud as well ($40 billion every year).  I just can’t get past the fact someone out there enjoyed six free DoorDash deliveries courtesy of my credit.

The scammers are winning this game hands-down. A physical credit card allows crazy-easy access to its critical information.  Take your pick as you regularly surrender your data: 1) through your phone, 2) through your computer, 3) through self-service devices (i.e. gas pump, ATM), and 4) by simply handing over your card at a place of business.

Left: actual card slot. Right: Skimmer data-collection “cover”.

My DoorDash friend picked up my numbers through one of the last two ways – I’m sure of it.  I never give out my credit card over the phone, and the websites I use have some form of verifiable security.  Alas, self-service devices and handing over cards are no-win situations.  With the former, you encounter skimmers (discrete data-collection devices placed over card readers).  With the latter, you risk the merchant or waitstaff copying your numbers when out of sight.  They probably use a skimmer as well.

The only real solution to credit card fraud – sad to say – is not using the card at all.  Pay for your gas with cash.  Write a check for the cash you would’ve taken out of the ATM.  Technology is improving the situation (i.e. Apple Pay, table-side pay systems), but until these approaches become the norm, you’ll continue to deal with situations where your card goes out-of-sight.

Frankly, I’m not asking for much here.  All I want is my bank to collar my DoorDash friend and let me know he/she faces the consequences of their actions.  But I know my little scammer is not worth their time.  Instead, he/she keeps getting free food, and annual fees and interest rates tick up a little bit more.

My brand new Visa card arrives later in the week.  I’ll activate it and update my linked accounts.  The inconvenience to me amounts to less than thirty minutes.  But the annoyance of it all – well – that feeling lasts a whole lot longer.  I just hope, by the time DoorDash gets to my neighborhood, I’m no longer perturbed and willing to give it a try.

Hope they’ll take cash.

Some content sourced from the March 2019 Upgraded Points article, “The Best Ways to Prevent Credit Card Fraud & Theft”.