Food start-ups have become as prevalent in the Bay Area as, well, start-ups in general. Every time I turn around there seems to be a new food delivery system promising--quickest, local chefs, bestest, easiest, organic, whatever to try and get noticed in an ever burgeoning and crowded market. Being into food like I am, I'm always up to try them out and see if they can live up to their hype. Though I try to keep my expectations in check and eyebrow raised to all their prodigious pronouncements. Bento (it's really only an app) is one that started several months ago and has expanded rapidly. The idea was intriguing enough that I decided to try them out several times to see how things went.
Their premise is to deliver delicious Asian food fast. You choose 1 main from 3 or so choices then 4 sides from 8 or so choices creating your own bento box for $12. Price seemed a tad high to me considering they then tack on tax and delivery fee bringing this closer to $15 per box. You don't have to tip your driver on top of that at least, but you do have to meet them at the curb as they don't deliver directly to your door. But everything does come in completely recyclable packaging.
My first experience with them was relatively soon after they first started so I expected some kinks to get through first time out but I was able to seamlessly and easily place my order through their app getting a reply my order was on way quickly and it did arrive in less than 20 minutes and I went down to meet my driver. One thing I did experience was they were out of some things so I had to make a last minute substitution, which was a bummer. I talked to the drivers and found out the main operation is in Bayview. They have a fleet of drivers that get a zone to make deliveries in. Each driver has all the individual components to put the boxes together with them in insulated containers. When an order comes through they put the box together and since they are in a zone it means they are closer to an address to make a delivery. If they run out of items the is a larger truck (or 2) roaming around zones to get re-supplied or if they are close to another driver near their zone they can also try to get refills from them. Or last resort, go back to the main op in Bayview, though that could be a long haul. It's all in an effort to get the food to you as soon as possible and serve as many as possible. Kind of how restaurants like to turn tables to move folks in and out.
The one big breakdown in all this for me was that each time I did the service they were always out of something. Here it was 2 dishes, another time it was 3 dishes and so on. Thus leaving me to stand at the curb and see what else the driver had instead. If they are going to continue to grow and serve more folks they really need to fix that aspect, otherwise people like me won't be happy continually not getting what they want.
But how was the food? Mostly hit or miss. The mains seemed to be variations on the same theme this time. Just sub in chicken for beef but add the same toppings. Plus, they didn't have much flavor, kind of like take out Chinese food from your local corner spot you can't understand how it has been in business forever but you go anyway because it's close and cheap. The eggplant had some nice flavor and the gyoza were also tasty--I liked the green version of them. The slaw had a pleasant kick, though I'd have been worried if they messed up slaw. The wings were a tad slimy and to soft like they were boiled then covered in sauce instead of fried first. The SO though the sushi was "just okay."
I waited a couple months to try again. The mains this time around were at least very different and offered up an all veggie option and more side dish choices. Though as stated about, they were already out of some of the ones I'd ordered on the app by the time the driver showed up. (As a side note, each time I ordered was around 7ish, so maybe that's their busiest time?) The kale salad had nice tangy dressing on it. But the Brussels sprouts were not quite done enough. I know you want some crunch, these bordered on still raw. Again, the SO said sushi was "just okay". One of them was supposed to have something deep fried in it, but it all tasted mushed to me. The chicken had grill marks this time but still off in texture and the peanut sauce on it was too runny and too sweet. The beef on the main was chewy this time out and I'm still not sure why they insist on putting their mains on top of raw shredded cabbage. I tell you now, it doesn't help things especially if you are using it as filler. I did like the stir fried veggie main. A big portion cooked and seasoned well. And again, some of the cooked dishes were still on the lukewarm side. I know I could pop stuff the microwave to heat up, but that seems to defeat the purpose of delivery. The whole point is get it, eat it, done.
What can I say? I wanted to like them as at least it is something different than the other choices out there. But out of stocks, lukewarm food and the $12 (plus) price tag keep me from fully committing to Bento. Am I asking too much? Eh, maybe, maybe not. At this point I'll wait before ordering through them again. Maybe a little more time and user experience will help them fix what is and isn't working. For right now though, there are enough other food delivery services for me to try.