BEIRUT: Demand for food delivery in Lebanon has nearly doubled in the span of a year, reflecting the rise of convenience culture in the country. “In 2018 there were roughly 10,000 food deliveries per day. Now it has grown to 18,000 orders per day since the beginning of 2019,” Toni al-Rami, president of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Nightclubs and Pastries, told The Daily Star.
Rami attributes this spike in part to customers wanting to avoid the chaotic traffic, as well as the floundering economic situation in the country. “In an economic crisis it’s cheaper for you to order to your home than to eat out,” Rami said.
According to the syndicate’s statistics, the average order amounts to $15. However, Rami pointed out that this is often much cheaper that what a customer would pay when eating out in the restaurant itself.
“It cuts costs on having to purchase marked-up alcohol and water; you can buy your own for much less,” Rami said, adding that there had been a rise in office deliveries due to longer working hours.
Another central factor driving the rise in deliveries is the increased accessibility of food delivery provided through mobile applications.
More than 40 percent of orders are now placed through mobile applications, Rami said.
Over the last five years, multiple food and beverage mobile apps have exploded onto the Lebanese food delivery scene. The three leading competitors in the country are Zomato, Toters and Onlivery, according to the syndicate. Zomato takes the lion’s share of online orders, providing almost 70 percent of all deliveries.
Onlivery was one of the first delivery apps to come online, entering the scene in 2013, with others following suit soon after.
Zomato, Lebanon’s biggest delivery service, initially launched in the country in 2014 as a food and beverage search and discovery app. Two and a half years later, it launched its online ordering service.
Currently, Zomato lists 8,500 restaurants and bars and has 850,000 registered users who can order deliveries from a total of 1,500 outlets, according to Zomato’s Lebanon country manager Bechara Haddad.
The app now covers restaurants across Lebanon, including in Tripoli, Sidon and Zahle. Haddad expects the app to have 10,000 restaurants listed by the end of March 2020.
“Our numbers have doubled year on year. Month to month we are experiencing 10 to 15 percent growth,” Haddad said.
Zomato does not have its own delivery fleet and orders are assigned to drivers hired by the restaurant.
Toters, a food delivery app that launched in 2017, instead has its own fleet of drivers who act as middle men between restaurants and their customers, delivering food and drink from any of the 350 outlets registered with the app.
Toters co-founder and CEO Tamim Khalfa recalls how in the beginning, he helped out his bourgeoning startup by making deliveries to customers himself.
Now, the food delivery business employs almost 400 drivers across Lebanon. Almost half of them operate within Beirut.
Khalfa sees his business as having a positive impact on the job market. “A lot of the time this job is someone’s primary source of income. We’re providing people opportunity,” Khalfa said.
“That’s a lot of value we’ve generated. We treat [the drivers] with high professionalism, unlike many common food delivery companies.”
All day and night, motorbikes with big delivery boxes strapped to the back can be seen zipping through the congested streets of Lebanon’s capital.
Despite their visibility in the city, the stories of the people who many Lebanese rely on to deliver food often go untold.
Thirty-one-year-old Salim Kayal, who for six years worked as a delivery driver hired by individual restaurants, started delivering for Toters eight months ago.
“I make better money at Toters and they treat me better than at the previous restaurant I worked at,” said Kayal, who provides for a family of three.
Many work for restaurants who hire their own drivers for deliveries.
“Sometimes we’re treated like we’re invisible,” said Hamza, a 25-year-old Palestinian who works as a delivery driver in Beirut.
“People are nice. [But] a lot of the time I’ll go to someone’s door, they’ll take the food and slam [the door] in my face.
“It feels like I’m not there, especially after working for 11 hours,” Hamza said.
Hamza, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, turned to delivery work after struggling to find a stable, full-time job, despite having graduated from a Lebanese university.
“This is my only option. I can’t just depend on my parents to pay for me. Plus I have a student loan of LL36 million [$23,880] to pay off,” Hamza said.
He makes $2.50 an hour.
His challenge to find work is exacerbated by the fact that, as a Palestinian living in Lebanon, it is difficult to obtain a work permit.
Twenty-nine-year-old Sami makes $2.60 per hour working as a delivery driver for a restaurant in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh, but says his wage depends on the number of orders, which can fluctuate from season to season.
“In the winter it’s more, in the summer it’s less,” Baalbeck-born Sami said.
Sami, whose name has also been changed, has a wife and two daughters. He said he struggled every day to provide for his family, sometimes picking up extra shifts and working 12-hour days to make sure his family could eat.
“The economic situation is really hard. It feels like everything is going backward in this crisis, nothing is moving forward,” Sami said.
“Of course I’d be doing something else if I could. But there is no work for us, not in this country.”