Takeouts: Ruined By Choice?

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Takeouts: Ruined By Choice?

Ordering a takeaway used to be, for many, a rare treat. However, the rapid growth of services like Deliveroo, UberEats and JustEat have arguably turned what would once have been something to cherish into a chore.

Living in central London, the sheer number of takeaway options to choose from can be truly overwhelming. I have the option to order from 352 restaurants “near me”—and that’s just on one app! This paradox of choice is something we’re all too familiar with in the modern age. Just as many of us find ourselves habitually participating in the Netflix scroll of doom, endlessly flicking through the never-ending range of titles for 45 minutes, unable to make a decision before either giving up entirely or succumbing to watching reruns of Friends, the same fate has now befallen takeaway services.

I can’t be the only one who has nostalgia for being able to call up one or two options and have them delivered—or more accurately, sending your mum or dad to collect them. These takeaways may not have always been exactly what you were craving or a prime example of haute cuisine, but they were reliable and, therefore, comforting.

Nowadays, by the time I’ve committed myself to a takeaway, I’ve already talked myself out of it. If I’ve actually been able to choose something to eat and have finally made it to the checkout stage, it’s highly likely that I’ll end up doing the equivalent of dumping a basket in the aisle when the queue is too long after being hit with a variety of different charges on top of the cost of my meal.

The sheer number of options isn’t the only thing paralyzing me from making a decision when it comes to ordering food; it’s a question of quality too. Deliveroo’s original concept was providing restaurant-quality meals for you to enjoy on your couch, but this seems to have been diluted by plenty of unknown brands flooding the app.

Although there are plenty of well-known chains on offer, from Nando’s and Wagamama to the more highly sought-after likes of Dishoom (for those of you who don’t know, people queue for literally hours on the street to get a table), there has been controversy over Deliveroo admitting to the use of “dark kitchens,” kitchen set-ups outside of the actual restaurants that service areas outside the restaurants’ usual delivery radius.

Whilst quality isn’t usually a problem when you’re ordering a pizza or some drunk chicken nuggets and chips, when you’re paying restaurant prices for a dish, you want to know you’re getting your money’s worth and that it’s been prepared to the same standard as it would have been in the restaurant.

I’m also very aware that at the time of writing, in the UK, we are living through one of the worst cost of living crises since the post-war period. Being able to contemplate a luxury takeaway meal may be beyond the means of many at the moment, and although services like JustEat and UberEats are known for having more affordable fast food choices, the majority of apps still charge various service fees on top of the cost of a meal. Often, the restaurants themselves also hike the prices listed on the app so that it’s substantially more costly than if you were to dine in.

Of course, there is a flipside, and having such easy access to a variety of food options is a privilege I now definitely take for granted. The element of choice means I really could order pretty much anything I’m craving at the click of a button. I’m a sucker for this, and it’s sometimes too easy for ordering a takeaway to become a habit.

Plus, I have also seen the availability of choice become a genuine life-saver for people. Living with doctors who worked ungodly hours meant that they often had nothing left in them to prepare a meal for themselves when they got home from their shifts. Whilst they definitely treated themselves to a pizza or more “typical” takeaway option from time to time, the fact that they could also order salads or sushi meant that they could still maintain a relatively healthy diet through relying on delivery services. Food delivery was also a lifeline for many people at the height of the covid-19 pandemic, especially those living alone, when isolation rules limited shopping opportunities.

People in rural areas everywhere will be rolling their eyes at another Londoner moaning about their privileged life (the divide between Southern and Northern England and the distribution of services and public infrastructure is a hot topic). Perhaps on this one, they have a point. However, for me, whilst I probably couldn’t go back to having only two to three options to choose from and—god forbid—no tracking link, at the moment, I’m much more content to close the app and walk the two minutes down the road to my local supermarket and buy an oven pizza. My wallet and brain power is much less depleted as a result.