The History Of Food Delivery: How Fast Takeout Became A Human Fact Of Life

By | December 30, 2020

test article image
Motorbike food delivery drivers on March 30, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Getty Images)

Whether you've got a craving for pizza, pot stickers, or pho, there's probably a restaurant that's willing to deliver that scrumptious treat to your door for only a few extra bucks, but that wasn't always the case. While it's hard to think of a world without restaurants, the concept of eating out or ordering in is a relatively modern fact of life.

Ancient Restaurants

Looking back, we can see some evidence of past cultures selling prepared food, like the Thermopoliums of Ancient Rome, where professional cooks prepared food for the working class, some of whom lived in small and sparse dwellings without functional kitchens. Still, the idea of sitting down at an impeccably decorated table and relaxing over a hot meal you don't have to clean up after didn't truly take off in the West until the 1780s, when Parisians established places of restaurer, where a person could "restore health" by eating.

In the United States, takeout food became somewhat common in the 1800s, when—like Rome—people who were struggling financially or simply traveling through could purchase premade sandwiches and salads from shops. Later, in the era of Jim Crow, black Southerners often had to order their restaurant food to-go because many didn't allow them to dine inside.

In turn, many black Southern women took to cooking and selling their own food to workers during lunchtime, with some finding notoriety and success in their business ventures. Gordonsville, Virginia even became somewhat of a destination for travelers as word of the best fried chicken in the region attracted Southerners and Yankees alike.

test article image
Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

The First Pizza Delivery

The first true instance of food delivery, however, occurred in 1889, when the King and Queen of Italy visited Naples and found the local food to be less than desirable. After the Queen fell ill, the royal family sought more traditional Italian fare, so chef Raffaele Esposito of the now iconic Pizzaria di Pietro e Basta Cosi whipped up his famous pizza and delivered it himself to the Queen. He even went so far as to name the mozzarella and basil pizza after her upon hearing her positive review of the meal, and thus the Margherita pizza was born. Fun fact: As hard as it is to imagine Italian cuisine without marinara sauce, tomatoes are actually native to the Americas. Before their introduction, most Italian food was oil- and olive-based.

But delivery isn't just about pizza, and the world would be a very bland place indeed were it not for the delicious wonders of Chinese takeout. In 1922, the Kin Chu Cafe, located in downtown Los Angeles, advertised a special service for their grand opening, claiming to be "the only place on the West Coast making and delivering real Chinese dishes." Sadly, the burgeoning industry of delivery food was thwarted by the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, when people couldn't spend much money on such luxuries or conveniences.