It's only 9:30 a.m., but it's officially lunchtime for Lisa Garman.
The founder of the Quad-Cities' first restaurant delivery service, Good2Go, Garman fields calls from clients, switching back and forth between a landline and cell phone. Running the longest lasting delivery service in the area has been no easy task, and Garman said she's busier now than ever.
She launched the Davenport-based company nearly 10 years ago, when restaurant delivery services were still a novelty and before app-based companies dominated metropolitan markets.
"In the Quad-Cities, other than Chinese and pizza places, you really couldn't get food routinely delivered," she said. "So it was about meeting a need for the consumer. And I also realized when this is done right, it can do a lot for a restaurant, especially a locally-owned, family-owned independent restaurant — those that don't have a marketing budget of a big national chain."
Once the sole delivery service in the area, Garman's business has gained some competitors in the past few years. In 2015, Grubhub launched in the Quad-Cities, according to spokesperson Demarquis McIntyre, focusing on connecting customers with restaurants already offering online ordering and delivery service.
Two years ago, MyTown2Go entered the market, along with Order2Eat, which was founded in Peoria and brought to the Quad-Cities by Davenport native Rich Edwards Jr.
Edwards moved to Peoria with his family, and eventually became a delivery driver for Order2Eat. The company was founded in 2007 by Waylon McFeeters.
"Eventually I became a marketing representative, and after that, I wanted to see (the owner's) opinion about expanding in the Quad-Cities. And I became part-owner," Edwards said.
In the past year, competition has gotten significantly stiffer, Garman said.
Grubhub, in July, expanded its local services to provide delivery for restaurants that previously didn't have their own drivers, McIntyre said. In September, Bite Squad arrived in Davenport, offering delivery for Wise Guys Pizza and More, Baked Beer and Bread Co., Cinnamon-N-Sage Healthy Cafe and others.
Last month, Uber Eats launched in Davenport. And this month, Bite Squad is adding its service to the Illinois-side of the river. This weekend only, first-time customers will receive free delivery for one year.
"Davenport has been great for us. We've gotten lots of great customers and great restaurants, and so we're excited to work across state lines," Bite Squad spokesman Craig Key said. "It takes a few things for our business to work: great restaurants, a large enough population base and a healthy driver pool."
Key said customer demand and new technology have driven the growth in the delivery sector.
"Customer demand has to lead to everything. Let's say there's a certain curry dish you can't make at home. You press a button, and it shows up at your house. It's an amazing 'aha' experience," Key said. "But the thing that put this business model at the tipping point is the smartphone."
Paul Martinez, director of operations for five local Barrel House restaurants, said in the Quad-Cities region, they use four delivery companies, recently adding Bite Squad.
"Our minds have just been blown the second we started doing delivery," Martinez said. "We never expected delivery would make up between 10 and 20 percent of our weekly revenue. Delivery is clearly the thing of the future, and it's really just in its inception."
For Davenport resident Teresa Dumerauf, being a Bite Squad delivery driver has allowed her to set her own hours and gain independence. But, she said it's about more than delivering hot food to hungry customers' doorsteps.
"A happy customer is a returning customer," she said. "But it's also about representing the restaurant. We want to make the best impression for the restaurant we possibly can. So it's about looking good, wearing our uniform, and keeping the food hot. We work for ourselves, the customer and the restaurant."
According to a 2017 Morgan Stanley report, it's estimated that more than 40 percent of total restaurant sales, or $220 billion, will shift to third-party delivery companies by 2020. While industry leaders argue it's only the beginning for restaurant delivery services, the influx has caused some companies to worry — fears include protecting brand image and keeping profits local.
"With these kinds of things, it can end up being a zero-sum economic impact in your region because everything purchased form these kinds of outfits are not purchased from your conventional restaurants," Iowa State University economist David Swenson said. "It's simply shifting how consumers' dollars are being used, and part of that money is finding its way out to corporate headquarters somewhere not in the Quad-Cities."
For locals like Garman and Edwards, it's been difficult to watch more outside companies enter the market.
"It's frustrating when a local company is trying to stay afloat and we have these national companies coming in," Edwards said. "And it's hard when people know the names, like Uber."
The national chains say they are creating jobs and boosting sales for local restaurants. Some economists estimate too many delivery services in one market could result in consolidation. Others see Amazon carving out a larger path to food delivery.
"With any kind of gig startup, companies flock in quickly," Swenson said. "But normal economic rules are going to prevail, and those rules are driven by supply and demand. We have a growing supply for these kinds of services, and the demand will grow as these services become known to people."
"But then there's a plateau," he said, "and at that plateau, it'll be among service providers who can last the longest and stay in the region. Yes, there could be a shake-out in the number of providers."
But with more customers trying out delivery services this year than the last, Key argued, "it's not going to be a winner takes all type of situation."
While it's difficult to compete with the marketing budgets and reach of companies such as Uber, Grubhub and DoorDash and Bite Squad, Garman said she's trying to keep up by developing an app and updating Good2Go's website.
She also emphasized her connection with the Quad-Cities and local restaurant owners.
"We continue to be overwhelmed by the love and support from the local community, because I am the only 100 percent locally owned and operated service," Garman said. "And we have very low turnover with our drivers. The only time we add people is when we grow, and that's what we're doing right now."
For restaurant operators, like Martinez, he said the choice between delivery services comes down to the quality of service and company image. With sales booming, Martinez said he only expects revenue from delivery to grow.