Same meal, different price: How to navigate food-delivery apps—and do right by the driver and restaurant

How a meal at Chai Pani breaks down on DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats

Chai Pani

Photograph by Emma Fishman

If you’re fortunate enough to live within a few miles of Chai Pani in Decatur, you can (and should) make a habit of picking up food there. If you’re more geographically challenged in relation to this outrageously delicious Indian street food, well, you might choose to rely on a food-delivery app—to the detriment of your bank account and the restaurant’s bottom line.

I calculated the cost of my favorite Chai Pani meal (alas, without the sev potato dahi puri—check out this article for an explanation of its disappearance) from three delivery apps, as well as for good old-fashioned pickup. Note the latter is the preference of pretty much every restaurant; check out the New York Times editorial from late last year: “Apps Are Helping to Gut the Restaurant Industry.”

As is clear in the comparison above, the cost of the same dish can differ on the app versus at the restaurant. That differential helps offset the fees, excessive by some accounts, that the app charges the restaurant.

So, yes, it’s inevitably going to cost more to order food for delivery than for pickup—even before you get to the delivery fee (which is clearly stated) and the other, sneakier service fees. A low or “free” delivery fee often matters less than the app’s less publicized service fee, sometimes lumped in with sales tax. In the Chai Pani example, DoorDash charged me a $2.99 delivery fee and a more than $4 service fee; Uber Eats a 49-cent delivery fee and a service fee about a dollar more than DoorDash’s; and Postmates a $2.99 delivery fee with a whopping $10 service fee. Postmates also doesn’t include a suggested tip up front, which sometimes gives the impression that its total price is similar to or less than other apps. (On the other hand, Postmates is often the only app that will deliver across town—making it a good option for when you have a craving for a specific, not very close restaurant.)

If you must go the app route, that at least gives you the opportunity to support a driver (hear from two of them on here). Just like a server in a restaurant, that driver is reliant on tips and, if you can swing it, deserves the full 20 percent. Apps have come under fire for failing to hand over the entire tip to the driver; DoorDash settled a lawsuit last year for “deceptive” tipping. If you’re picking up directly from the restaurant, though, please don’t skip the tip; restaurant workers and the industry are in crisis mode, and every little bit—ahem, 20 percent—helps.

The order

Okra Fries
Pick-up: $9.99
App: $10.99 (+$1.00)

Bengali Fish Fry Slider
Pick-up: $5.99
App: $5.99

Grilled Paneer Salad
Pick-up: $10.99
App: $13.49 (+$2.50)

Corn Bhel
Pick-up: $7.99
App: $9.49 (+$1.50)

Mango Lassi
Pick-up: $4.99
App: $5.99 (+$1.00)

Samosa Chole Chaat
Pick-up: $8.99
App: $9.99 (+$1.00)


Subtotal: $48.94
Delivery fee: N/A
Tax: $3.92
20% tip: $9.79
Total: $62.65


Subtotal: $55.94
Delivery fee: $2.99
Fees & estimated tax: $8.80
20% tip: $11.19
Total: $78.92


Subtotal: $55.94
Delivery fee: $2.99
Fees & estimated tax: $16.60
20% tip: $11.19
Total: $86.72

Uber Eats

Subtotal: $55.94
Delivery fee: $0.49
Fees & estimated tax: $9.92
20% tip: $11.19
Total: $77.54

This article appears in our February 2021 issue.