New York University and the dining contractor Chartwells knew that the most challenging of times required a creative solution for second semester ‘20-’21 food service. They found what many might consider to be a somewhat unlikely partner to enable them to accomplish that: Grubhub.
Grubhub was founded in 2004 to connect hungry diners with great, local restaurants. It has since grown to more than 31 million diners and over 300,000 restaurants in its marketplace. It serves some 4,000+ cities and fulfills some 658,000 orders to restaurants across the country each day. The Fall semester of 2020 brought a unique set of, and hopefully once in a lifetime, challenges as NYU and Chartwell faced the daunting task of feeding the university’s student population in their dorm rooms. With multi-floored dormitories and limited elevator capacity, it simply could not be accomplished with the level of service that NYU has been known for.
With a goal of reaching that level of expectations for the second semester, NYU thought out of the box by challenging Grubhub to customize a solution. With Sean Ir, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Grubhub, the company was able to structure a plan in which each NYU student would be given a daily stipend of Grubhub dollars to spend on food.
Many restaurant and food service pundits think that the Grubhub model has always been based on operators utilizing Grubhub drivers. “While in fact, for the first ten years of our history, we worked with restaurants that had their own drivers, Ir added. But in 2014, we added delivery services so that restaurants could utilize our drivers for deliveries instead of having to develop and manage their own fleet.
Grubhub brought a history of serving the nation’s colleges to the recent collaboration with NYU. “In 2018, we acquired a company named Tapingo that helped campuses offer online ordering to their students and staff, which would become the backbone of our Grubhub Campus Dining offering now offered on hundreds of campuses across the country,” Ir added.
“Grubhub exists to help restaurants and merchants drive online orders. We do this through our Marketplace that connects to more than 31 million diners. Our Direct Order Toolkit that adds online ordering to a restaurant or merchant’s existing website and channels, and Grubhub Campus Dining which is optimized for order ahead and contactless grab-and-go for students and staff (especially important for health and safety during the COVID pandemic).”
Restaurants in the NYU community have of course welcomed the additional business that the program has brought to them as they battle through the Pandemic. “This program not only provided quarantined students with a trusted way to get food safely but allowed students to support nearby restaurants and benefit the local economy with their orders, “Ir said. In a survey conducted by Technomic, nearly nine out of 10 independent operators agreed that the Grubhub Marketplace increases the volume of takeout and delivery orders, eight of 10 independent operators agreed that Grubhub increases customer frequency and seven of 10 independent operators ranked the company highest among leading providers for attracting new customers.
The Chartwells/Grubhub program was a seamless fit as the two have been working with the Chartwells team for a number of years across a large number of campuses around the U.S., including NYU. “So, they were already familiar with our capabilities when they approached us asking to help with the delivery component of getting meals to students who were quarantined, Ir explained. Once we heard the challenges that NYU and Chartwells needed to solve, we identified a game plan that we could quickly roll out.”
“We assembled a task force of people from different parts of the company to bring the right mix of speed and support to serve NYU’s students. Chartwells provided at least $60 per day in Grubhub gift cards, and we offered free Grubhub+ memberships so that students could get $0 delivery and make their credits go as far as possible. Since the quarantine situation was evolving minute by minute, we sent out credits and Grubhub+ memberships in a very agile way on very tight timelines – often nights and weekends. The quarantine was chasing Covid, and we were chasing the quarantine.”
The NYU rollout has given Grubhub a high-profile stage to showcases its flexibility in non-traditional venues including colleges and universities. “We’ve partnered with campuses to provide digital ordering for more than five years, first as Tapingo, whose technology was integrated into the Grubhub app following our 2018 acquisition. Over the years, we’ve continued to add new features and capabilities, including a residential dining pass and reservation screen on the Grubhub Campus Dining app. This feature allows campuses to limit the number of people in dining halls at once to allow for social distancing – something that’s key to keeping students and staff safe on campus during COVID.”
The program has also produced data that outlines the types of food that students are favoring as they use Grubhub every day at NYU. “We took a look at what students were ordering from September 2020 – December 2020, and all signs pointed to students craving classic college food – especially foods with cheese!” The top five most frequently ordered foods were: 1. Cheese pizza, 2. Mac and cheese, 3.Mozzarella sticks, 4. Grilled cheese and 5. Chicken quesadilla.
Grubhub has plans to take what the company has learned from it work with Chartwells and NYU to campout life Post-Covid. “We are always identifying areas of opportunity for how we can best serve students at universities across the country, and Grubhub Campus Dining is one way we do this,” Ir stated. “In addition to the gift card program that we implemented for NYU students, hundreds of universities in the U.S., including NYU, have partnered with us to offer this program to its students — enabling them to link their Grubhub account to their school meal plan, giving them the flexibility to order their favorite foods ahead of time on the mobile app and skip long lines.”
In addition, the Pandemic has changed the role that Grubhub plays in the restaurant and foodservice marketplace. “COVID turned everything on its head, including food delivery, and we worked quickly to roll out new features and support measures to help restaurants, drivers and diners,” Ir continued. In 2020, the company created the Grubhub Community Relief Fund which raised over $15 million last year, to support restaurants, drivers and those in need impacted by COVID-19.
Grubhub devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to drive more business to its restaurant partners and develop products and procedures to help keep drivers, diners and restaurant workers safe. Grubhub partnered with the Restaurant Strong Fund to offer hundreds of restaurants $10,000 grants to help winterize their facilities. They also launched the Plating Change program in partnership with Marcus Lemonis and World Central Kitchen to support local restaurants across the country and help those facing food insecurity.