The pandemic has made takeout and delivery more valuable than ever, not only for convenience but also for reduced exposure. In larger cities, some changes to restaurant delivery (among other services) have been building for years, and are likely to be permanent. See Heated patios, QR code menus and pop-ups: Milwaukee restaurants got innovative during COVID, and many changes will stay.
What, though, about smaller towns? Pizza has always come with delivery, but now one finds other restaurants and groceries moving to drive-up or delivery service. (A renovation of Whitewater’s Walmart will offer drive-up grocery service; full-service groceries outside the city already offer drive-up or third-party delivery services.) These services are a private market response to changing conditions; they come from private companies freely choosing and offering.
Not very long ago, local government in Whitewater advanced a buy local campaign. These years later, private markets are responding to immediate and enduring demand with no-contact shopping experiences that alter what local means.
Whitewater businesses with these delivery options will be able to meet local demand and perhaps expand a bit farther, but the same is true in reverse. Business outside the city will be able to reach city residents more easily. Residents in Whitewater, for example, may find that Fort Atkinson or Janesville with delivery is as convenient as in-person shopping from one side of town to the other.
Consumers will have more options, and local businesses will have to adjust or lose a part of their remaining customer base.
More delivery options will not be, ironically, equally accessible to all. Some may find delivery services hard to manage online or expensive (there are fees, and customers should tip). In places of food insecurity and hunger, like Whitewater, delivery is a convenient option for some of us but not others.
The key economic consequence of delivery is that it expands the definition of what it means to buy local both within and between nearby cities.