Making food delivery more affordable: A conversation with Spread founder Andy Wang

Spread Logo

Courtesy of Andrew Wang

Jessica Taft

Since their emergence back in the early 2000s, online food delivery services have taken off and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are helping to keep thousands of restaurants in business.

Despite the added convenience, third-party food delivery softwares have a prominent drawback – high commission fees for both customers and participating restaurants.

However, there is a new, commission-free alternative entering the running: a start-up calledSpread.

According to Andy Wang, Spread’s founder, he was motivated to create a platform that would serve as a “win-win for both ends of the exchange,” for both the consumer and the business.

Having worked on the strategy and operations team at Groupon from 2014 to 2015, Wang was excited to be a part of a project that would break the mold established back in 1998 by Seamless and create a food-delivery platform that avoided the high commission fees. However, this project did not pan out, as the dreaded commission was unavoidable.

A self-starter, Wang was determined to make this concept a reality and embarked on his own venture: Lunchspread.

Wang was always fascinated by restaurants. An NYU Stern graduate and self-proclaimed “foodie,” his time studying in the city allowed him to explore new eateries across the city. Despite sampling food from some of the most famous restaurants in the city, the small mom and pop hubs were what caught Andy’s eye.

In an effort to bring more business to these small restaurants, Wang created Lunchspread in January of 2016.

Serving as a link between corporate offices and mom and pop restaurants, Lunchspread was a catering business based on “sampling.” By giving offices a discount on their first order for each new restaurant they sampled, Wang’s model helped “bring new, long-term relationships to local restaurants.” he said.

However, Lunchspread was a “seedling” of Wang’s bigger picture. After growing the business for four years, Wang left Lunchspread in 2019 and began working on the next step — Spread.

As a consumer and businessman, Andy saw the media disparity among restaurants across the city. While a majority of popular “chain” restaurants already had an online presence and delivery service, the smaller businesses had been happily upholding the brick and mortar framework that they had been working under since their establishment.

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 virus forced non-essential businesses across the country to close their doors to the public, the traditional business model was inapplicable.

Restaurants all across New York City found themselves unable to host patrons in person, making food-delivery the only means of staying in operation. While the businesses that had already embraced online food delivery were able to make a relatively smooth transition, the mom and pop restaurants were thrown out of their element into making desperate agreements with high- commission-fee platforms.

In fact, third-party entities take as much as 30% in commissions per order, hurting restaurant profits and making meals up to 91% more expensive for patrons, according to The New York Times.

Although Wang was waiting until the summer of 2020 to launch Spread, he saw his chance and launched the start-up in January of that year.

Taking all of his findings into account, Wang came to the conclusion that restaurants are open to paying for new clientele but they do not want to continue paying the same “entry expense” fees for existing patrons.

With that, the commission-fees charged by platforms such as UberEats, Grubhub and Seamless become overwhelming and hurt the restaurants that are desperately trying to stay afloat.

Spread offers a flat-fee for restaurants to pay for each new patron, but no commission.

Similarly, customers save money because a commission-free service does not force restaurants to raise their prices in order to make up for the commission cut. By subscribing to a certain number of texts a day, week or month — at the customer’s discretion — patrons get access to coupons and bring their taste buds joy.

While third-party apps are more widely available, Wang saw that “the pandemic made consumers more in-tune with the needs of small businesses.”. Typically choosing their own convenience without taking the restaurants into consideration, the pandemic environment made patrons seek out the best of both worlds.