SEATTLE -- The home-meal replacement market is likely to heat up in cyberspace thanks to a deal that mates a restaurant- ordering service called Cybermeals with leading on-line service provider America Online.
In a four-year marketing and promotional agreement, Cybermeals, based here, will have exclusive rights to gather restaurant orders for takeout and delivery meals on AOL's heavily used networks. Dulles, Va.-based AOL in return is guaranteed $20 million and a piece of additional revenues if Cybermeals passes certain ordering thresholds.
Through a network of more than 11,000 participating restaurants nationwide, Cybermeals matches consumers with establishments in their neighborhoods and enables them to use their computers to place meal orders for takeout or delivery. By signing on to Cybermeals' site, www.cybermeals.com, through AOL, customers get access to a list of subscribing restaurants; can see menus that include "on-line specials"; and can order food for immediate consumption or as long as three months in advance, using a variety of payment methods.
The service is free to consumers, with Cybermeals collecting about 3% of each on-line order from member restaurants.
Orders are currently placed on Cybermeals' web site, and forwarded to restaurants either by fax, e-mail or automated voice mail. Cybermeals expects to have more than 25,000 restaurants in its network by the anticipated April launch on AOL.
Cybermeal officials declined to reveal sales figures, order frequency or the number of meals it has handled in the company's first year of operation. Through an official, the company said it had "phenomenal growth through its first year," and cited the increase from 1,200 member restaurants in December, 1996 to its current roster of 11,000.
Cybermeals officials anticipate a coming boom in on-line meals ordering, similar to that seen by such on-line supermarket ordering companies as Peapod, Evanston, Ill. Tim Glass, president and chief executive officer of Cybermeals, said in a prepared statement, "Convenient on-line ordering of takeout and delivery meals will revolutionize the restaurant business just as phone and fax orders did.
"By combining the reach of AOL and AOL.com with Cybermeals' unmatched network and variety of restaurants, we're able to give consumers across America more of the two things they want most in dining: choice and convenience."
Cybermeals underwent initial testing in December 1996 in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. The year-old company's founders were inspired by a scene in the movie "The Net" where the heroine, played by Sandra Bullock, orders a pizza on-line. It started as the pizza-only CyberSlice, and then expanded its menu offerings and converted its name to Cybermeals last May. Company officials said they plan to expand internationally in 1998.
AOL Networks, the Internet online services division of America Online, has more than 10 million members worldwide.