ZeroCater: Because Lunch At The Office Doesn't Have To Be A Complete Pain

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Lunch at the TechCrunch office has always been an interesting affair. We’re fortunate enough to have it paid for by the company several times a week, but the logistics involved — in other words, ordering enough food for everyone while taking their taste preferences into account — cause a real headache. For a long time it was a game of chicken: we wouldn’t eat until one of us had their hunger pangs intensify to the point that they couldn’t take it any longer, and only then would they pick up the phone (I kept a stash of granola bars under my desk so that I could outlast the others). Things are much better now, largely thanks to TC alum Laura Boychenko, but it’s still a big time sink.

If only Y Combinator-backed startup ZeroCater had launched a few years ago.

The startup has set out with a simple mission: make your office’s lunch as easy as possible. It handles the tricky parts (like identifying restaurants that’ll deliver and ordering enough food to cover everyone, including vegetarians). Sound good? ZeroCater is now allowing companies in the Bay Area to sign up for the service.

Using ZeroCater is pretty straightforward. First, you tell them how many people you’ll be feeding each day (and if any of them have dietary restrictions). ZeroCater has lined up dozens of restaurants — 70 total in the Bay Area — and will rotate between them (you can opt to remove a restaurant from your queue if you don’t like it). ZeroCater will order a standard set of food from each venue, but you can tweak your order if you want to (most companies just go with the default). That’s it. Food with no more headaches. And your employees don’t need to leave the office, which often translate to more work.

So why not just do the ordering yourself? The first plus to using the service is the time factor — you don’t have to deal with finding new restaurants or placing orders. And ZeroCater has also negotiated deals with restaurants that wouldn’t typically offer delivery at all, which can translate into higher-end fare (cofounder Arram Sabeti explains that because ZeroCater can guarantee orders in the hundreds of dollars, it’s worth these restaurants’ while, whereas smaller $20 orders wouldn’t be). And restaurants have a bigger incentive to make sure your order is right and on time, since they’ll lose a lot of business if they mess up.

You pay ZeroCater for each meal, and they send a check to the restaurant afterward. ZeroCater charges a 7% convenience fee for each order, and it also keeps any savings it negotiates with the restaurants (some venues will give a bulk discount to ZeroCater, but you still pay menu price). Of course, your small company probably has neither the time nor the pull to get bulk discounts at numerous restaurants.

I asked Sabeti what hurdles would hamper someone else from building a similar service. He says that the auto-generated orders that take dietary restrictions into account and the billing system are not trivial (cofounder Bill Moorier was previously the VP of Engineering at Justin.tv, so they have some tech chops behind them).

The three-person team is currently in the process of raising funding, with plans to launch in New York City next.