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How did food delivery get so popular?

These days, food delivery is a common part of American life. In fact, about 86 percent of the country orders food at least once a month—and 6 percent of the country dines on delivered food on any given day. However, food delivery as we know it today depends on certain modern conveniences. Let’s look at how food delivery got so popular.

History of food delivery

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Ordering food today is as simple as opening an app on your phone. While it hasn’t always been quite this easy, getting food to go is an ancient practice. The well-preserved ruins of Pompeii, which was abandoned after the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., left behind many street-side stands called thermopoliums that cooked food that Romans could grab on the go. Similar structures have been uncovered in Aztec cities where historians think that tamales were commonly served.

Butchers in Paris were known to take their products directly to the homes of nobles as far back as the 1300s, and dabbawallas in India have been delivering cooked food to people in the city of Mumbai for 300 years. The first recorded pizza delivery was made in 1889 in Italy to King Umberto and Queen Margherita to their palace in Naples.

American food delivery

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The story of modern food delivery in America begins in New York City. Take out options were popular around transit hubs such as subway stations, and nearby restaurants began offering take-home options such fried scallops or oysters that could be carried out in small cardboard containers.

While pollution made take-home oysters from the New York Bay obsolete around the turn of the 20th century, the small white containers known as oyster pails found a new life as Chinese food containers. The company that manufactured these containers was called the Bloomer Brothers of New York, which became the Riegal Paper Company in the '60s and finally Fold-Pak in 1977. Somewhere along the way, a Chinese-looking red temple was added to the containers, and they became forever associated with delivery food. Fold-Pak still makes most of the Chinese take-out containers used in the United States today.

Food delivery beyond New York

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While delivering food was an easy transition for restaurants to make in an area as densely population as New York, more innovation was needed to begin delivering food in rural areas. As telephones, cars, and televisions became ubiquitous in American homes after the Second World War, delivery began to become more widespread.

American soldiers returning from abroad had developed a taste for Italian cuisine, and pizza became a popular delivery option. In fact, a pizza restaurant in Los Angeles named Casa d’Amore is thought to be the first place to offer free delivery – assuming customers met the minimum order of $2.50. Pizza’s popularity exploded alongside delivery, and today one in eight Americans eat pizza for at least one meal every day.

Food delivery today

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The advent of smartphones has made delivery even easier. Apps such as UberEats and GrubHub let users customize orders to hyper-specific preferences from dozens of restaurants in their area. It also allows users to track their deliveries using an in-app map so they know exactly when to expect their food. Pizza has kept up with the digital trends as well, and the Domino's Live Pizza Tracker tells users when their pizza is being prepped and the second it is put into the oven.

Today, food delivery is so popular that you can enjoy the delicious convenience of hot, fresh cooked food almost anywhere in America.