ChowNow’s next act
The ordering startup has championed direct ordering for over a decade… so now what?
The first time I met ChowNow CEO Chris Webb, we sat in a New York City conference room for an on-the-record interview at my full-time editing job. It was 2017, ChowNow was five years old, and I knew little about the company. What I definitely didn’t expect was Webb’s immediate unbridled honesty about problems in the nascent restaurant delivery business. I think I kept him talking for 90 minutes; a true rarity when a PR rep’s sitting across the table, too.
I came out of that interview understanding that Webb really, really didn’t like Grubhub. Not because he found it particularly threatening, but because charging restaurants commissions and withholding customer data felt… wrong, he told me. Several years and one global pandemic later, Webb is still championing the cause.
ChowNow charges partner restaurants a recurring monthly fee — not per-order commission — in exchange for a direct ordering system. The company builds branded restaurant apps — it has thousands — and in 2021 launched an app with a network of its own, creating a direct ordering marketplace it calls the Order Better Network.
But ChowNow may be best known as the online ordering company that enjoyed the brightest spotlight during the worst days of Covid. As diners and restaurants caught on to the flaws of ChowNow’s commission-driven competition, they flocked to the platform.
The company leaned into that designation. It added an “impact score” to its app that tracks how much money a diner has saved restaurants by ordering through direct channels. Its marketplace fee for diners is called a “support local fee,” marketed as a way to avoid charging restaurants per-order commissions. It’s a good vibe and a great story.
Of course, it’s been years since ChowNow’s pandemic boom, and Webb understands that it’s time to evolve. If he was hoping to help raise awareness about third-party commissions, he’s succeeded. Diners care. Restaurants care. ChowNow’s larger competition cares enough that most have added some sort of direct ordering option of their own. So where does that leave the OG direct ordering advocate?
Webb and I talked all of this through during my recent visit to the company’s office, a well-designed and delightfully bright space in Culver City, a respite from San Francisco’s summer fog. Read on for more.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Expedite: The last time we sat down officially, I had a full-time job. It was years before Covid. I guess we’re both still doing this thing.
Chris Webb, ChowNow: “But you like it?”
I can’t imagine not doing it. Do you feel like that?
“I have the fear of regret. Like not seeing this through knowing it can be so much more, having ideas and plans for something much bigger.”