I love dining out in Portland, I really do. Its one of the main reasons I moved here, and one of the driving forces behind this blog.
But lets face it. Trudging your way downtown for a decent meal can sometimes be a daunting experience. From December through March, there’s a fair chance that you’ll be dealing with the nature’s elements: wind, ice, snow and freezing temperatures. And in the summer, one must contend with hordes of slow-moving, gawking tourists, a force of nature of its own that can turn a quick drive down Commercial Street into a grueling crawl. And that’s not to mention the scarcity of parking that seems to grow worse by the day.
I do enjoy cooking at home when I get the chance, but I’m a bachelor, living alone and—when not traveling for work—inhabiting a home office. While you might think that such an existence would lend itself to oodles of free time for things like cooking, the truth is that I have a nasty habit of sitting down in front of my computer early in the morning and working eight or more hours—with only bathroom and coffee breaks—before realizing that I haven’t eaten anything all day. At this point, I’m famished with little desire to spend an hour or more of my time cooking, eating and cleaning up after myself.
And let’s be honest. We all have nights where all we want to do is sit in front of the tv in our underwear scarfing down a hot meal while watching “Shark Week” programming.
Enter the meal-delivery industry.
Here in Portland, there have historically been few options for meal delivery, limited chiefly to a couple of Chinese joints and the “Big Three” chain pizza places, most of which I can’t stomach. (There are a few standout pizza delivery places of a more local’ish variety — Otto Pizza now delivers, as do Leonardo’s, the Portland Pie Company and the Pizza Joint. Siano’s over on the Stevens Avenue used to deliver as well, though I’m not sure if that is still the case.)
But what about non-pizza options? In the last few years, there has been an explosion of food delivery start-ups. For obvious reasons, the majority of these startups—operations with names like Postmates, Munchery, Eat24 and GrubHub—are focused on larger cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston. In Austin, my home away from home, there are no fewer than four meal delivery services that I’m aware of.
While it doesn’t appear that these big operations will have a presence in Portland anytime soon, we do have one online ordering-and-delivery option in an outfit called 2 Dine In (www.2dinein.com). The service—which has been around for a few years now—caters to a handful of Portland-area zip codes and allows you to choose from as many as 38 local restaurants, depending on your location and the establishment’s hours of operation.
2 Dine In offers delivery of both lunch and dinner, with certain restrictions. For instance, lunch can only be delivered between 11am to 1:30pm and dinner can be delivered from 5pm to 10pm. (That said, you can place an order hours or even days in advance and specify a delivery time.) There is also a $25 minimum order for lunch and a $15 minimum order for dinner.
Ordering from the 2 Dine In web site is incredibly simple. You’ll need to create an online account, but that is no more taxing than establishing an account at places like LLBean or Amazon. Once that’s done, it is a simple matter of logging in, choosing a restaurant you want to order from, adding your desired food items to your cart and checking out. Since you can store your payment and delivery information on the site, you don’t even need to fish the credit card out of your wallet when placing future orders.
2 Dine In charges a $4.99 delivery fee for each restaurant you order from. So while you could order your dinner from three different restaurants, just be aware that you’ll pay that delivery fee three times over. For me, a $5 charge is a no-brainer. If it saves me the hassle of driving to-and-from a restaurant and finding a parking spot, it is money well spent.
That said, some of the restaurant pages on 2 Dine In feature the caveat “Please note that prices may vary from the restaurant menu prices.” And you DO need to be careful here. In some instances, I noticed that the cost of a sandwich or entree was a much as $2 more on 2DineIn.com than if you ordered directly from the restaurant and go to pick it up yourself. If you’re feeding a family of four, the expense can get out of control very quickly.
2 Dine In also gives you the option of adding a tip for the driver on to your bill. You can choose from some pre-set amounts (10%, 15%, 20%) or click the “suggested” button (which applies a tip somewhere in the neighborhood of 16%). While I find the practicing of awarding tips in advance of the service rendered completely absurd—more evidence of the fact that the whole tipping system in the United States is broken, which is a topic for another day—it is nice to have this ability when you you don’t have any cash lying around the house.
Though I’ve used 2 Dine In sporadically since 2011, I recently decided that I’d put the service through its paces by ordering from a handful of Portland area restaurants—Elsmere BBQ, Slab, TAJ Indian Indo-Chinese Cuisine and Buck’s Naked BBQ—and report my experiences here.
Please keep in mind that I’m writing about the 2 Dine In ordering/delivery experience, and not so much the restaurants themselves. That said, as the folks at 2 Dine In neither prepare or package the food that they deliver, I’ll try to qualify any criticism accordingly. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Experience #1: Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grille
The Order: This was my first order using 2 Dine In in some time, and I was pleased to see that the web site has undergone a redesign since my last visit. It is much easier to use than it was previously, and each restaurant has its own page design/template matching the type of cuisine it offers.
Unable to choose between the $10 pulled pork sandwich and the $11 brisket sandwich, I ordered one of each and decided to divvy them up over the course of a couple of meals. I also ordered a quart of Elsmere’s Mac & Cheese and a small order of marinated cole slaw. Surprisingly, the cost of both sandwiches on 2 Dine In was a dollar cheaper than the prices listed on Elsmere’s own web site, offsetting part of the delivery charge and making ordering from 2 Dine In a no-brainer.
Cost: $40.63 with tax and delivery fee. I tipped the driver an additional $7 in cash.
Delivery Time: Delivery time was estimated to be 70 minutes, but the order arrived within 45 minutes.
The Details: Of the four locations I ordered from, South Portland’s Elsmere was the furthest away, so I wasn’t surprised that the food arrived more warm than piping hot. Everything was packaged well and clearly handled with care. The potato chips accompanying the sandwiches were stale as hell, but I doubt they got that way on the drive over. My one disappointment was that there was no barbecue sauce of any kind packaged with the food. Thankfully, I have a few bottles of the stuff on hand, so it was no biggie, but it did occur to me that it would be nice if 2 Dine In offered a feature where you could annotate your order with a note along the lines of “please remind the restaurant staff not to forget to give me some barbecue sauce to accompany the $40 worth of food I just bought from them.” Whether the lack of such a feature is mere oversight or a deliberate decision to stymie those folks who invariably make bizarre and unreasonable requests—“Please include four loaves of garlic bread and enough cutlery for 30 people even though I’ve only ordered $9 worth of food”—I’m unsure.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Experience #2: Slab Sicilian Street Food
The Order: I ordered the hand slab (1 lb. slab of pizza) and the meatloaf meatball (dubbed “Monstri” on Slab’s menu). At $6 and $14 respectively, these are the same prices you’d pay if you were dining in at Slab. (By the way, this is enough food for three meals, making it an exceptional value.)
Delivery Time: As with the Elsmere BBQ order, delivery time was estimated to be 70 minutes. However, my food arrived in just 40 minutes, well under the estimated time.
The Details: Since 2 Dine In’s secure ordering system allows me to keep both my address and credit card on file, ordering was a simple matter of logging in to the site, choosing what I wanted to each and submitting the order. Super easy. I think the whole process took 45 seconds.
Both the pizza and the meatball arrived nice and hot. Not scald-your-mouth hot (a good thing) but certainly warm enough to reassure me that my order hadn’t spent 40 minutes on a tour of Portland’s streets. The container holding the meatball meatloaf was maybe a bit too small to hold the large amount of food it contained, but I can’t fault the 2 Dine In folks for this, as the food is packed by the restaurant. The waxy brown paper at the bottom of the container helped ensure that cheese and dough didn’t merge with cardboard.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Experience #3: TAJ Indian & Indo-Chinese Cuisine
The Order: Medu Vada, Shrimp Masala and Naan.
Delivery Time: 2 Dine In budgeted an hour for delivery. The food arrived in just a little under 50 minutes.
The Details: TAJ doesn’t publish prices for its offerings on its online menu, so I don’t have anything to compare 2 Dine In’s rates to. That said, the prices didn’t strike me as outlandishly high. I was pleased to see that 2 Dine In gave me the option of specifying the degree of spiciness at which I wanted my shrimp masala prepared (I specified medium) and I got what I asked for in that regard. The food was plenty hot and well packaged, save for the doughnut-like medu vada, which were slightly soggy as a result of sweating inside the styrofoam container that housed them.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Experience #4: Buck’s Naked Barbecue
The Order: Chopped brisket sandwich with corn bread and horseradish sauce, burnt ends (later replaced with pulled pork sandwich and a side of baked beans), and an order of mac & cheese.
Cost: $39.19, including tax, delivery fee and tip.
The Details: Since I had already ordered barbecue once previously, I was toying with the idea of ordering from Po’ Boys & Pickles, but couldn’t bring myself to pay the mark-up of $2.30 per large sandwich from a place that is so close to my house. Instead, I opted for Buck’s Naked Barbecue. Their prices are also higher on the 2 Dine In site than at the restaurant itself, but—with the exception of a ridiculous 86 cent charge for a simple side of horseradish sauce levied by the restaurant—it didn’t strike me as being quite so ludicrous, given that driving to and from Buck’s would have required at least 30 minutes of my time and the hassle of finding parking downtown in the pouring rain.
As this would be the final test in the 2 Dine In experiment, I wanted to mix things up a little. First, rather than ordering through the web site, I downloaded the 2 Dine In app to my iPad and ordered that way. Logging in was a breeze, but I wasn’t crazy about the user interface which more closely resembled 2 Dine In’s former web site design and, at times, felt counter-intuitive. (Also, the radio buttons for selecting menu items are much too small for my pudgy fingers.) I noticed that some of the items listed on Buck’s online menu do not appear on the 2 Dine In version. While I can’t be certain, I’m thinking that maybe this is a deliberate decision as stuff like poutine probably doesn’t travel so well.
I was eager to see how close 2 Dine In could come to delivering at a specific time so, rather than ordering the food for ASAP delivery, I ordered a couple of hours in advance and requested that it be delivered at 6:15pm.
Shortly after submitting my order, I got a call from Mike at 2 Dine In, who informed me that, unfortunately, Buck’s did not have burnt ends available on this day. I appreciated the promptness of his call and his patience while I perused the menu in search of a replacement item. I opted to replace the burnt ends with a pulled pork sandwich. (As an aside, I’ve eaten from Buck’s a total of three times in my life. Two of the three times, burnt ends were on the menu but I was told they were not available after ordering them. Hey Buck’s, if this is a regular thing, maybe burnt ends should be offered as a Special rather than being featured on the regular menu?)
In spite of the pouring rain, my food arrived to my door at 6:12pm which is close enough in my book to qualify as perfect timing.
The food was well-packaged and still hot when it arrived. Wisely, the folks at Buck’s packaged the pork, brisket and buns separately, so as to prevent the bread from becoming saturated with meat juices during transit. Also, it seems clear that the 2 Dine In drivers take good care of the culinary cargo they are transporting. Despite ordering a number of potentially disastrously messy foods as part of this experiment, there wasn’t a single instance of a sopping wet bag (you know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve ever ordered from any Chinese take-out joint on the planet).
Buck’s was also the first place to include cutlery (as well as butter packets, wet wipes and napkins) with my order. Sadly, there was no barbecue sauce in this order either, which again had me wishing for some way to make a special request with my order. That said, I have to say I kind of blew it this time, since I was aware this might be a possibility and still didn’t say anything even when Mike called me about the burnt ends not being available.
Though this meal itself was, by far, the least satisfying of the four I’ve written about—the pulled pork was bland and tough, the mac and cheese was soupy, and I can’t forgive the 86 cent charge for what amounted to a tablespoon of horseradish sauce—none of these shortcomings owe to 2 Dine In’s service which was exemplary, given the circumstances.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Overall, I’ve found ordering from 2 Dine In to be a very positive experience. Their delivery turnaround times were better-than-expected, their drivers friendly and the customer service exceptional.
There is, without question, a lot to be said for the dining-out experience, and you certainly miss a lot of it—ambiance, presentation, etc.—when ordering delivery food. That said, the ability to enjoy the occasional restaurant meal—in your underwear, while watching “Shark Week”—without having to endure some of the headaches of downtown dining, can be quite a nice thing, especially with the winter months approaching. In today’s age, five bucks seems like a fair price to pay for such a service, so 2 Dine In gets my seal of approval, with the caveat that patrons should be aware of the price mark-ups imposed by some of the restaurants which rely on the service. With that said, I’m a fan overall, and would love to see more Portland restaurants (are you listening, Silly’s?) get involved with the 2 Dine In in the future.