GrubHub agreed last week to buy Yelp's Eat24 food-delivery service for $287.5 million, while the firms formed an alliance under which Yelp will integrate GrubHub's food-ordering platform into its offerings.
To my mind, GRUB and YELP just formed the "Wintel" of casual dining. For younger readers, "Wintel" refers to the 1980s tie-up between Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) where the two firms worked together to design an industry-leading platform based on Intel microprocessors and Microsoft's Windows operating system. Together, they crushed IBM (IBM) and put Apple (AAPL) in a golden cage for years.
Similarly, Grubhub and Yelp's partnership looks like a duopoly that should help consumers discover, order and eat great food. The new tie-up could also directly impact OpenTable, a unit of Priceline (PCLN) that lets customers book online reservations for thousands of restaurants.
In fact, OpenTable could become EmptyTable, as there could be plenty of empty tables at lots of restaurants if people opt to seamlessly find great food using Yelp and have it delivered to home using Grubhub.
Yelp has long been the best resource for restaurant reviews written by actual consumers (as opposed to fake reviewers). In fact, Yelp's reviews are so genuine that the company has attracted the ire of many mediocre restaurants. (You know what they say: "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen" -- in this case, literally.)
Of course, such candor has made it hard for Yelp to convince restaurants to buy advertising on the company's site. I'd imagine it also makes it difficult to implore restaurants with less-than-favorable ratings to buy other Yelp services like reservation booking, advanced ordering, and couponing (my favorite).
Personally, I was hooked on Yelp the first day I used it and the monocle app. However, eyeballs don't make business models, revenues do.
I think frustration with the long haul to gather advertisers and business customers drove Yelp to buy Eat24 in 2015. That was a good-but-not-great fit, due to the conflicts noted above. A better fit at the time would have been OpenTable, but Priceline snatched that up as a tuck-in product.
Enter Grubhub, a comparable service to Eat24 and a Wall Street darling (yes, that still matters). GrubHub management must have realized that while Eat24 isn't as highly regarded by analysts as GrubHub.com is, it's still a competitive nuisance. I believe the company also recognized that putting potentially negative customer opinions and reviews about GRUB's business customers on Grubhub.com isn't a good business practice.
So, this month's deal allows GrubHub to create some consolidation in the order-and-delivery business, while Yelp can unload a distraction and team up with the best partner in the space.
Once this alliance takes effect, Yelp's candid user reviews can direct traffic to GrubHub's customers for a referral fee, while GrubHub can focus on orders and deliveries. For Yelp, that will mean a new, no-cost revenue stream of referral bounties paid per-order by Grubhub. For GRUB, the alliance offers help in scaling up the firm's model, and GrubHub might even be able to raise price in a newly consolidated market.
Personally, I own both YELP and GRUB. I bought YELP some time ago but only recently broke even on my stake. The day after the Grubhub announcement, I also sold some of my YELP stake to buy some GRUB shares, giving me a "pair trade" in the new duopoly. Both stocks rose on the deal's announcement -- a sign that the alliance is a win/win for both firms.
Follow Frank Gristina on Twitter @FrankGristina