In May, Google launched a feature allowing customers to order food directly from a Google search with an “Order Online” button. Instead of sending you to a restaurant’s in-house delivery platform (if they have one), it sends you to partners like DoorDash and Postmates, which take a cut of your order from the restaurant. Getting the button removed from a restaurant’s Google results is maddeningly difficult. (Google may also send you to ChowNow, which charges a flat, monthly fee.)
This is frustrating to many restaurateurs. It’s also one of the many ways big tech companies and venture capital-backed startups and industry “disruptors” are cutting into the notoriously slim profit margins of restaurants.
Delivery platform Grubhub and its subsidiary Seamless take large commissions on all delivery orders placed through their systems. The higher the commission you pay to Seamless/Grubhub, the easier it is for customers to find your restaurant.
Grubhub sets up new phone numbers for restaurants that use its services, and if you use that number to call the restaurant and place an order, they take a cut. Even if the phone call doesn’t result in an order, the restaurant could get charged. To make matters worse, Yelp includes those Grubhub phone numbers on its own listings and takes its own little piece of the action.
Another tactic from Grubhub: buying up tens of thousands of domain names that are similar to restaurant websites as a way to siphon customers away from the owned-and-operated pages and toward the ordering pages where the commission will be made. They put the original restaurant’s menu and photo on their fake site, but when a potential customer clicks “order now,” they are directed to the Grubhub/Seamless page. If you order from that page via these “marketing” efforts, the commission paid to Grubhub is even higher. (The company defended itself in July by saying they did it on the restaurants’ behalf but discontinued this “service.”)
Of course there are more bad actors. It took months of driver complaints and multiple exposés for delivery platform DoorDash to actually pay drivers and couriers the tips meant for them. UberEats and Deliveroo are so focused on rampant growth they let vendors trade on their platforms without proper food safety certification. Scores of workers injured on the job and family members of workers killed while delivering in Mexico are pushing Uber Eats to take responsibility for the safety of couriers.
And just as a general matter: These companies, taken together, are using investor money to create a business where there isn’t one. Delivery shouldn’t be this cheap or free. But now we as consumers are trained to think it should be, because these companies are willing to eat the losses to create a market. Restaurants that want to remain competitive feel pressured to offer delivery, no matter the commission.
I’m sure these companies have changed many restaurant businesses for the better and exposed a whole world of restaurants to customers who wouldn’t have otherwise known about them. But I’d just rather not partake in this system anymore. So I’m going to take Seamless off my phone, call restaurants directly (making sure to cross-reference the number), and use delivery platforms owned and operated by restaurants when available.
And from now on I only tip in cash.
- Intel: Iconic London restaurant St. John will open its first U.S. location in a yuppie mall in Los Angeles; New York’s Hometown BBQ opened in Miami; Rockefeller Center is kicking everyone out and courting hot new operators; Miami’s Employees Only re-opened as Swizzle Rum Bar & Drinkery and it looks intensely weird; the pastry chef of lauded North Carolina restaurant Kindred opened a Southern-meets-French bakery called “Bonjour Y’all”; the team behind BadMaash in LA is opening a burger spot; Sean Brock’s new Appalachian-focused Nashville restaurants will be called Audrey and Red Bird; Chicago lawmakers are debating abolishing the tip credit (which allows restaurants to pay employees less than minimum wage so long as tips make up the difference); Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg has a new wine and pasta bar; Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo will open a restaurant called Anton’s with chef Nick Anderer in their Frankies 570 space in NY; London has a cool new Filipino bakery; LA’s failed 3 a.m. last-call bill would have changed the city’s nightlife; and award-winning and currently burned-down B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue opened a branch in an Atlanta Kroger.
- Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem on the first year of owning a Miami restaurant.
- How to make a TikTok recipe video.
- If you, like me, want to know the deal with Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book about not eating animals without actually reading it, just read his interview with Jenny instead!
- The sharing economy has led to a rise in libraries that loan out baking pans.
- I’m going to set up an iced coffee bar for dessert at my next dinner party.
- An excerpt from an upcoming book about Windows on the World, which touches upon how Joe Baum created the most spectacular restaurant in the world.
- Review: one star for NYC’s Red Paper Clip.
- Watch: How two master chefs are redefining omakase by only using American fish.
This week on the podcast
This week on Eater’s Digest, Daniel and I talk about the evolution of food in movie theaters and this week’s biggest stories.
- Apparently almost half of customers confronted with iPad touch screens asking them to tip for counter service do. [NYT]
- The Wing’s Audrey Gelman became the first visibly pregnant CEO on the cover of a business magazine this week. [@audreygelman]
- I might need your help figuring out what I’ll do for work in Vermont when I buy this farmhouse and leave Brooklyn forever. [Curbed]
- Bill Addison wrote a beautiful review of one of my favorite LA restaurants, Republique. [LAT]
- Very amused by this sexy Beyond Burger Halloween costume. [@chrisgayomali]
- All hail Cindy Adams’s insane-looking apartment. [NYMag]
Update: A previous version of this article implied that venture-backed delivery service ChowNow takes a commission. Instead it charges a flat, monthly fee.