Prior to their merger in 2013, Grubhub and Seamless were America's two leading services for ordering restaurant food online. Today, the brands continue to operate separately within the combined organization GrubHub Inc. (GRUB), which went public in 2014. Matt Maloney, the co-founder and former CEO of GrubHub is now CEO of the combined organization. Jonathan Zabusky, the former CEO of Seamless, is now its president. 

The combined strength of GrubHub and Seamless has created a giant in the online/mobile food-ordering market. In 2014, GrubHub Inc. drove nearly $2 billion in gross food sales to restaurants, and the company now processes close to 220,100 orders, daily, serving 35,000 restaurants in 900 locations in America and the UK. GrubHub, Inc. now has offices in Chicago, New York and London.

While providing similar services, GrubHub and Seamless evolved separately; as a result, each brand has its unique strengths. Below, we'll look at both business models, explore their histories and see what the future might hold for the combined entity.

Seamless

Jason Finger and Paul Applebaum launched SeamlessWeb in 1999. At first, the B2B service provided companies with a system that let employees order food, online, from restaurants and caterers. This was convenient for users and practical from an accounting perspective. Then, in 2005, Seamless became available for use by the general public. The company launched a mobile site in 2009, a suite of mobile applications followed and, in 2011, the suffix was dropped and "SeamlessWeb" became "Seamless." 

One of the service's key features is its "Food Tracker," which allows users to monitor the status of their orders in real time. Another is "Boost," which assists restaurants Seamless works with, providing a platform that helps them to manage and track orders. The company's focus on corporate accounts has always been strong, allowing restaurants to consolidate their orders, billing and accounting processes. And in 2011, Seamless acquired MenuPages.com—a website that allows users to see more than 50,000 restaurant menus. 

Another one of Seamless's distinguishing factors is its strong presence in New York City, where it has developed a large and loyal customer base. In fact, Seamless has kept its focus on major cities, in general, while GrubHub has worked to penetrate a much wider range of locations across the United States, paying attention to small towns as well as cities.

Today, Seamless is available in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia.

GrubHub

Web developers Matt Maloney and Mike Evans launched GrubHub in Chicago in 2004. They came up with the idea while working at Apartments.com, where they were frustrated by a lack of food delivery options.

GrubHub offers ordering for delivery or pickup from over 30,000 restaurants. Its platform features menus, reviews, restaurant information, coupons and discounts. GrubHub orders can be made via the GrubHub.com website, or via mobile apps for iOS and Android devices. A "Track Your Grub" feature provides customers with real-time delivery notifications and order mapping. And, like Seamless, the company creates products that helps restaurants work more efficiently. GrubHub's partner restaurants are given an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet which is pre-loaded with its "OrderHub" app, while delivery drivers use a "DeliveryHub" app to track their pickups and drop-offs.  

In 2011, GrubHub acquired AllMenus.com—a website that lists over 250,000 restaurant menus. GrubHub's geographically diverse presence serves locations in 800+ cities. 

Though GrubHub started out with freemium subscription model, charging $140 for six months of premium placement on the website, it changed course after two years and adopted a transactional model, taking a commission from each order places via its services. Co-founder Matt Maloney described the turn in his column for the Wall Street Journal: "Grubhub customers were clear that they only wanted to pay a dime when they made a dollar. Those inquires prompted GrubHub to make a big switch in 2006, from a subscription model, where we charged restaurants for premium placement, to a transactional model, where we collect a commission for each order placed. That was a turning point as we saw a dramatic increase in restaurants adopting our ordering platform."

As of this writing, GrubHub still allows restaurants to rank themselves higher in its search listings by paying a higher commission rate. “Restaurants can choose their level of commission rate," a company prospectus notes, "at or above the company’s base rates, to affect their relative priority in its sorting algorithms, with restaurants paying higher commission rates generally appearing higher in the search order than restaurants paying lower commission rates.”  

The Current Business Model

GrubHub and Seamless both continue to use transactional business models. The percentages have not been disclosed but, armed with data from the IPO prospectus, analysts have put the number at 13.5%. In 2015, GrubHub Inc. acquired Diningin and Restaurants on the Run, which also provide delivery services. “We believe that delivery is a way to accelerate both our ability to capture our existing market and grow that market generally by adding new restaurants," Maloney explained in an earnings call. "But it’s not just about growing the market. It’s also about increasing the level of service to our customers by increasing the delivery speeds, which gets better when you add scale.”

 

The Competition

Grubhub Inc. faces formidable competition from technology giants eyeing the on-demand delivery market: Yelp (YELP), Uber, Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG). A particularly imminent threat comes from Amazon's Prime Now delivery service. According to a recent GeekWire article, Amazon is secretly testing its ownrestaurant delivery service by allowing employees in Seattle to use Prime Now to order meals from local restaurants. Because the logistics and distribution prowess of this company are unmatched it represents a genuine threat to Grubub Inc.  

 

The Bottom Line

Although it remains the clear leader in America's online takeout ordering market, GrubHub Inc. will have to be nimble to stay on top. Given the competitors nibbling at its heels, hungry users can expect to to benefit from continually improving apps, more restaurants to order from and more efficient delivery services. (See also: GrubHub: Should You Buy In?)