DoorDash promised me love and all I got was this stupid sandwich

I swiped on "Let's Eat Cute" so you don’t have to.

Burger plus heart letter equals facepalm girl and shrugging boy

Food delivery companies are going to increasingly bizarre lengths to stand out.

Illustration: Protocol

Last week, DoorDash and Shake Shack launched a dating website called “Let’s Eat Cute.” It’s about as gimmicky as marketing gimmicks get — and an indicator of exactly how far food delivery apps have to go to stand out in a crowded market.

DoorDash competes with three other nearly carbon-copy competitors for the $150 billion food delivery market: Uber Eats, Grubhub and Postmates. (Postmates, of course, is now owned by Uber, because along with massive competition there’s also massive consolidation in the market.) Those delivery companies, which mostly deliver restaurant-made food within 30 to 45 minutes, are struggling to keep up with super-fast convenience delivery companies like Gopuff. And if you can't beat 'em, join 'em: In December, DoorDash soft-launched its own 15-minute delivery service.

Each company is leaning into loyalty programs in order to gain exclusive customers, but even that’s hard when they mostly offer the same menu. Shake Shack, for example, is also available on Postmates, Uber Eats and Grubhub. Most customers are inclined to go with whichever service is offering a lower delivery fee, has a driver more quickly available or is offering a coupon that day.

This, combined with the fact that app-based food delivery has never been a particularly profitable business, means the companies are desperate for any customer they can get. And they’re going to increasingly bizarre lengths to get them. Gopuff spent millions on its “Quartertime Show” Super Bowl ads, for example, while Uber Eats enlisted a huge roster of celebrities for its own ad. Grubhub just gave out free bitcoin to users. “There’s a lot of competition in the industry, with many players going after the same market,” said Gartner director analyst Chelsea Gross. Around the holidays, food delivery companies “really go over the top.”

Speaking of over the top: DoorDash playing matchmaker with its Valentine’s Day-themed site.

When you open the neon green, purple, orange and black Let’s Eat Cute website, you’re met with a simple form to create an account. There’s much less agonizing over profile curation than in your typical dating app, though. All you can select is your preferred gender pronouns, what gender(s) you’re attracted to, a single selfie and your “preferred spice level.” Whatever that means.

You can also add your Instagram handle if you want to actually get in touch with anyone, since there’s no chat capability on the site. Otherwise, all you can do is send your matches a coupon code for Shake Shack’s new buffalo chicken sandwich.

This is actually less sandwich-pushing than Gross said she expected. “Normally when you see something like this, there’s a lot of attention placed on that menu item,” she said. There’s no chicken sandwich selfie filter, for example, or dancing burger animations when you get a match. “This doesn’t seem very launch-driven. It’s really trying to blend itself into dating app culture.”

Let's Eat Cute ad There’s no chicken sandwich selfie filter, for example, or dancing burger animations when you get a match.Image: DoorDash

I picked my prettiest selfie, swiped right on everyone available (at least 150 people, though DoorDash won’t say how many people have signed up in total), and sent my Instagram account to each match. It wasn’t until I swiped for hours — and posted a very desperate Instagram story begging any of my matches to DM me — that I could finally talk to someone. Elvis, another San Francisco resident, slid in with a simple “Hi! We just matched!”

Surprisingly, he was down to meet up for a date. I suggested shakes at our local Shake Shack, because, reasons.

Despite the incredibly un-romantic location I chose — at a lovely mall food court in downtown San Francisco — it felt a hell of a lot like a real date. We dodged each other’s eye contact, and asked awkward, uninspired questions, like “When did you move to San Francisco?” and “Where do you work?” The conversation about how we found Let’s Eat Cute was fun for a moment — we both found it skimming through breaking tech news the day it launched — before the conversation turned to venting about work, which is never good on a first date. I even sent that classic, cringey text you always send before a date to make sure you won’t get stood up: “See you in a bit!!”

Elvis very well might be a new friend, but I don’t believe that either of us thought the sparks were flying. But matching me with my soulmate was never DoorDash and Shake Shack’s goal.

Instead, "this partnership ... creates more awareness that Shake Shack is available on DoorDash," Vanessa Carr, DoorDash's director of marketing partnerships, said in an email. When asked how DoorDash's team trained the site to find matches, her answer was distinctly coy: “‘Eat Cute’ is like a healthy, long-term relationship,” she said. “With any thorn during testing, we found an ever-more fragrant rose to hopefully help others become inspired to find their food-loving match.”

That playful (and entirely unhelpful) response reinforces Gross’ speculation that the campaign isn’t about an immediate sale, either. Instead, Gross said the most obvious, “immediate” benefit is a PR boost. This campaign helps make sure that the first delivery service a potential customer thinks of is DoorDash, because of how memorable Let’s Eat Cute is. “The goal is to generate buzz, and they’re effectively doing so,” she said.

There’s also a data-collection play here: According to the site’s terms of service, DoorDash controls all the profile information uploaded to the site, like users’ genders, phone numbers and Instagram handles. That’s not to say that DoorDash executives might think they can improve their product by knowing their users’ romantic preferences — that, Gross said, doesn’t seem very likely. And DoorDash said it won’t even use the profiles to make another ad.

Instead, it’s probably about collecting demographic and contact information. “In a world where cookies are being depreciated, there’s a reliance on first-party data,” Gross explained. “Even capturing phone numbers is something that brands look to, just to be able to have in their CRM.”

Either way, DoorDash succeeded in its goals. Not only did I order a buffalo chicken sandwich through DoorDash (plus a burger for my roommate, fries and a drink to reach the $20 minimum required to activate the free sandwich coupon code), but I also went back to Shake Shack a few days later for shakes with Elvis. In the process, I gave DoorDash my phone number, my Instagram, a photo of myself and am even writing this article, presumably adding to the buzz.

Given how competitive the other delivery companies are, and how quickly they copy anything that smells like an advantage, I can only imagine the slew of sandwich-based dating apps about to hit the market. Maybe we’ll be eating for free forever.

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