It's something that people living in Europe or in North America take for granted, and there are many cities in the Middle East that also do it – but it's only recently that locals in Baghdad have started to enjoy the benefits of getting a meal delivered to their homes. If you feel like a falafel sandwich, no matter where you are, all you have to do is write a message on the Facebook page of the local business concerned and food will arrive at your place within the hour.
It's a trend in Baghdad these days, says local man Ali Hashem, who recently used the delivery services of his local falafel shop. He searched on the word “falafel” on Facebook and found a number of places near him that offered to deliver. “In the past there were only one or two restaurants offering home delivery and we needed to call a telephone number to order,” Hashem explains. “So we were reluctant to order food to be delivered unless it was a special occasion. Today things are a lot easier. You only need to send a Facebook message. You write down your order and address and then you will receive your order.”
Tariq al-Bayati is the owner of a restaurant in Saidiya, in southern Baghdad, that serves falafels and other popular dishes and he is now making deliveries via Facebook. Al-Bayati started this service when a friend sent him a message on Facebook one day asking him to send a meal to his place, as a favour. “I asked one of my employees to go and deliver the food to his house,” al-Bayati told NIQASH. “That gave me the idea to start using Facebook for delivery orders. I had not been intending to start a Facebook page for the shop or to promote it among my friends but it's turned out to be a very good idea. It's very convenient for people who don't have time to go out and buy their meals, or who don't like to leave their houses.”
Al-Bayati says that after they receive the order, they prepare the meal, then send it to the customer who – as is customary – pays for the food and the cost of the transportation when it arrives.
“In the beginning I was surprised to see other shops delivering food to people,” al-Bayati notes. “But then I realised it was really practical as well as profitable. I now have more customers and I am making more money.”
But in fact al-Bayati was not the first to make deliveries of food. Many locals say that the San al-Reef restaurant in the Karrada district was the originator; they started making deliveries in 2004 using a phone system. They have not yet started using Facebook but are apparently considering it.
“The restaurant's management is seriously thinking about this because many of our customers have told us they would like it,” Luay Ahmad, who is responsible for customer services at Saj al-Reef. Ahmad expects that when this service begins, the restaurant will get more customers. He notes that many Baghdad locals use Facebook all the time, for social interaction and news, and that this is the next logical step.
Delivery staff get paid between US$400 and US$800 per month and larger restaurants also cover the costs of the vehicles they use.
But being a delivery boy in Baghdad is not as easy as it is in other big cities. As one might imagine it is more dangerous, as the culinary couriers must go through a number of military checkpoints, deal with traffic delays and there is also the possibility that they could be kidnapped as they are going about their work.
Kidnapping is big business in Iraq and a criminal gang may not be tempted to grab a delivery boy working for a less expensive restaurant. However a delivery boy working for an expensive restaurant may be a worthwhile captive, particularly if they can get the restaurant owner to pay up.
“We use a number of methods to deal with these challenges,” Ahmad of the restaurant, Saj al-Reef, tells NIQASH. “Firstly we coordinate with the checkpoints in the areas in which we are working so we can protect our employees in case there are any security problems. And we never send our delivery people into any parts of town where there are any kinds of problems or tensions.”
The weather in Baghdad can also cause problems. When it rains, the restaurants get more orders but at the same time it's more difficult for delivery people to make the deliveries. The streets flood and become impassable. “If that happens we stop using the motorcycles and we only use the cars,” Ahmad says.
The increasing use of Facebook to facilitate deliveries around Baghdad is not just limited to meals. Stores selling clothing, watches, mobile phones, books and other items have also started to advertise on Facebook and even send them via the site. The food deliveries only happen in Baghdad – it's not available elsewhere in Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan – but the other goods are also being sold outside of Baghdad.
Local economist, Ali al-Sheikh, believes the new delivery system can only be a positive thing for Baghdad. “It will create new job opportunities and reduce unemployment,” al-Sheikh suggests. “It will allow customers to buy things they might not normally get. It means any business can compete with any other business and promote its goods and increase its sales.”