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How Meal Delivery Apps are Killing Your Favorite Restaurants

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Another local restaurant has bitten the dust, and food delivery apps are causing restaurants to go under instead of helping them stay afloat. “Online ordering does more damage to a business than it helps,” says the out-of-business sign at just-shuttered Gaslamp Cafe. “Any profit from the sale is stripped away by the fees they charge the restaurant, which leaves only enough to cover the cost of the food.”

Restaurant owners and employees tell us that apps like GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates are more of a hindrance than a help to their bottom line, and the delivery ethic is not particularly strong.

“We had to stop one of the drivers from taking the to-go food into the bathroom with him,” says Erin, a bartender at two local brewpubs that serve food. “Delivery apps are a new thing, but this new thing isn’t working well. People don’t realize what the back end of this is like.”

alberth2 via Flickr

DELIVERY APPS STEAL PEOPLE’S TIPS. LITERALLY.

News broke last week that Instacart and Doordash were stiffing divers out of their tips, and the backlash did at least cause Instacart to reverse that policy. Bur DoorDash and other apps still do keep drivers’ tips for themselves, and none of the apps allow for any tips to be given to the actual restaurant staff.

“There’s no way for the receiver of the food to tip the restaurant workers,” says Bethany, a server at a popular chain of San Francisco restaurants. She gets screwed out of tips every single shift, and the same goes for the back-of-the-house staff in the kitchen.

“I’ve actually overtipped [kitchen staff] from my own money on to-go food, because I know Manny got hit by this,” Erin tells us. “I know multiple servers who do this. Because we’re a family.”

That is a statement you will never hear from someone who works for a food delivery app.

“It’s not just tips to me, we tip our kitchen out,” Erin says. “You’re not just stiffing us, you’re stiffing my kitchen staff.”

Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

DELIVERY APP FOOD “SITS FOREVER” AND IS POORLY HANDLED

We assume that these high-tech apps deliver food very efficiently. They do not! Delivery apps are far less efficient than just calling the restaurant delivery service yourself.

“I end up with a lot of food that sits forever,” Erin tells us. She recalls a typical delivery driver incident where a driver could deliver your food, but instead merely sits around the restaurant waiting for more orders to come in.

“The guy says, ‘Well I’m going to wait for that order to be ready as well’. I said, we have this food ready now. That food will be another 20 minutes. “So I now I have ‘Amanda,’ whose food is ready, but he sits there for another 20 minutes with ‘Amanda’s’ food in his hand waiting for ‘Roger’ to be ready.”

“Fifty percent of their bad reviews are ‘The food arrived late, it was cold.’” Erin says. “That has zero reflection on the business.”

Tater Tot Tom via Flickr

THE APPS ARE LOSING MONEY, AND COSTING RESTAURANTS MONEY

These complaints might seem like sour grapes coming from little restaurants who are not as profitable as the big tech apps. That’s not true. None of the delivery apps have ever shown a real profit, they just have a shit-ton of other people’s money to burn through. And their business model is costing restaurants money.

“I’ve had a few times where Postmates credit cards haven’t worked,” Bethany says. “That makes a big to-do, because the delivery driver wants the food but the card doesn’t work and you can’t give them the food. And they get angry at you.”

Helen Penjam via Flickr

MANY RESTAURANTS ALREADY HAVE DELIVERY

Half the goddamn places on DoorDash, GrubHub, etc. already have delivery, and they do it better.

“If you call Supreme Pizza, who have their own delivery drivers, you’re directly putting your money into that business,” Erin says. “That guy brings that cash back and generally speaking they tip that amongst all of them. And your food is going to get there faster.”

It’s sad reflection on society that the best and brightest minds of our generation are not curing cancer or solving global warming, but instead developing the 200th completely redundant food delivery app.  The convenience of isolation comes at a great cost.

“It urges people to stay at home and disconnect from their community and society,” Erin tells us. “We have so many restaurants closing down. But when’s the last time you went to one of them?”

Food delivery apps are designed by messiah-complex techies who have never worked a food or beverage service job in their life. They do not care how many restaurants perish over their self-absorbed, money-losing ‘disruption’ fantasies. When you use meal delivery apps, you’re taking whatever meager profits local restaurants can cobble together, and sending it straight into the pockets of billionaire bros who refuse to pay their workers even minimum wage. People, that is delivery of the wrong kind.

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Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.

10 Comments

  1. Sparr Risher
    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Why are you including Grubhub on this list? Did they start a delivery service while I wasn’t looking? Last I checked, they are just an ordering service, with delivery handled by whoever you are ordering from (or you go get it yourself).

  2. TheCalifornian
    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Most places with their own delivery drivers are just awful. A lot of pizza and mediocre Chinese and Indian food, and not much else

    I refuse to believe more restaurants can’t find a way to provide their food for delivery without harming their own businesses. If they haven’t figured it out, they should keep trying, because the demand obviously exists and there is money to be made. Look at NYC, what’s working there that isn’t happening here? Because they’ve had scores more delivery options long before there even was an internet.

  3. Jackie Phillips
    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    As a Doordash and UberEasts driver for over a year, I never had any of the problems you posted here, and I never, ever did any of those terrible things you accuse drivers of doing. Both companies were easy to work with and I always got my tips. They are listed in the dollar amount for each trip. Plus, I would also get cash tips from some customers. The only single downfall I ever had doing this work was a wait to pick up food at very popular places. I would always keep my customer informed as to what was happening and the timeframe. I always had very happy customers.

    • Cassie Forcier
      April 20, 2020 at 11:16 am

      You didn’t mention anything about there being no way for servers and other tipped employees of restaurants to receive tips from your app. Anyone who normally would be tipped on a to-go order, does not get tipped with a delivery app, yet they do the SAME thing in order to allow YOU to go pick up that tip for yourself. It’s a bad business model, you wouldn’t understand unless you worked IN the store itself.

  4. Kathryn Tucker Estrera
    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS. There has been a serious and marked decline in the quality of restaurants in SF, and I blame 1) Greedy landlords, and 2) Food delivery apps and the lazy people who support them. All of the above suck and need to get the hell out of San Francisco.

  5. Dina
    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    I rarely order delivery (unless I’m desperate), but when I do want to I rarely ever find restaurants with their own in house delivery drivers. I would MUCH prefer to patronize restaurants with their own drivers. I usually give up ordering once all the fees are added in.

  6. alexaaa9
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    So that’s called evolution and restaurants need to understand why people like their food delivered. First off, starting sometime in the 90s, eating out became like sitting in a large cafeteria. There’s no privacy, terrible acoustics that create cacophony, and I don’t want to be subjected to having to listen to the conversation of the next table, who is often so close they’re practically sitting in my lap. Dining out should be private and relaxing, but between that and having to hunt down your server when you need something you could just get yourself, it’s more like sitting on an airplane in economy. Plus we save money when we eat in the comfortable privacy of our homes, since no tips!

    Expect this trend to only grow because the younger generations, myself included, simply don’t want or have time to cook, so eating food from restaurants becomes more of a daily routine than just a social event. Do we want to get dolled up just to eat in said loud cafeteria? No! We’re not being lazy, we’re being efficient while maximizing pleasure. In my part of town, restaurants that have learned how beloved curbside pickup is, are thriving. People aren’t that against driving, especially when delivery takes an hour. But do we want to park and have to walk to the bar in our workout clothes or sweatpants, just to wait in line or try to flag someone down? Nope.

    Restaurants need to change their business models. Some ideas include actually paying waiters, finding smaller places with less dining space to save on rent, incentivize pick up with reduced prices so people don’t opt for third party delivery, or change the dining experience so it’s actually something people want to pay for. If you think about it, people who take out are actually saving the restaurant a lot of money—they don’t require square feet, wait staff, cleaning. Why should we charge people who take their food to go the same amount? Restaurants refuse to adapt, then wait for other industries to disrupt them because the demand is there. Just goes to show most people who work in the food industry don’t have great business instincts.

    That said we need to change laws that incentivize landlords (or rather, property management companies) to charge exorbitant prices for rent. We should be taxing/fining for empty storefronts in cities with high rent, rather than allow these wealthy companies to use this loss for tax write-offs or wait until they can find a bank or gym to take the space. What happens when this goes unchecked is that you’ll find yourself in the middle of a food desert—expensive, prime real estate with only a few chain restaurants and a steakhouse. Then ironically businesses and people who live in the most convenient, sought-after areas, will have to drive outwards to get food. This is currently happening where I live and I have to drive 15-20 minutes to get food several days each week if I want any variety in where I eat.

  7. Natasha Verma
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    It’s time for restaurants to start paying their employees a livable wage that doesn’t depend on tips. And restaurants are not places where strangers meet. If that were the case I could understand the argument a bit better.

    • Daedrin
      April 20, 2020 at 7:24 am

      I sure hope you enjoy paying 20-40% more for food then.

  8. Zarahti
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Horse shit. If I’m so disinclined to leave the house that I’m willing to pay the app fees to have the food brought to me instead of going to the restaurant, there’s no way I’m going to the restaurant if I *can’t* get it delivered. I’d rather just eat a bowl of cereal.