Meri Dahlke was scrolling through Twitter one Sunday afternoon last month when she landed on a now-viral Twitter thread from San Francisco–based restaurant owner Pim Techamuanvivit:
When Dahlke, who owns Ten Bells Tavern in Oak Cliff, read about Techamuanvivit’s experience (customers were ordering from what they believed to be her restaurant, but her Michelin-starred eatery doesn’t do takeout), it made her curious.
“[Techamuanvivit] mentioned all these sites that her restaurant was on. I’m like, ‘Oh, there we are on Grubhub, Postmates, all these things,’” says Dahlke, who then looked up how much they charged for an order of Ten Bells fish and chips. It’s $14 at the tavern, but $33 on Grubhub. “Just order from us,” she tweeted.
But it’s about more than just cost. It’s not uncommon for food delivery apps—an ever-crowded field that includes the likes of DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates—to add restaurants to their delivery offerings whether those establishments have given explicit permission or not. Grubhub started employing this practice in earnest last year. In October, a Grubhub letter to shareholders conceded that “non-partnered options are the wrong long-term answer for diners, restaurants and shareholders.” While Grubhub prefers restaurants to join willingly, the food app market is such that the company feels it can’t do that anymore. “As other food delivery companies have chosen to list non-partnered restaurants on their marketplaces for years to widen their supply of restaurants, we’re now trying this strategy in select markets as a way to close the restaurant supply gap and drive more delivery orders to local restaurants,” a Grubhub spokesperson said in a statement to SideDish.
Delivery apps are competing to serve consumers’ appetites for food from their favorite restaurants, but in the process are putting stress on the very business owners they say they’d like to collaborate with.
One busy Sunday during brunch, a perpetually crowded service for Ten Bells, a man was waiting near the kitchen. A order for eggs and toast had come in, but the kitchen was slammed, so that driver had to wait. Dahlke’s staff later told her that the driver, getting impatient for his pick-up order, became irate with her chef. “And he threatened him, like, to take him outside and ‘whip his gay ass’ or something,” Dahlke says her staff later told her. “We didn’t sign up for that, and you can’t be nasty to my staff.”
Meanwhile Dahlke, who hasn’t officially worked with any delivery platform, has noticed that the apps list long-outdated menus and prices. Pasta primavera, Ten Bells’ award-winning pickled eggs… “We haven’t had any of that in two years.” According to a source, Grubhub uses an automated process to scrape info available online. Sure, restaurant owners can contact Grubhub to update all that stuff. But Dahlke is still left wondering, “Why do I have to take all this time out of my day to do something I didn’t sign up for? Why do I have to take the extra steps to be removed [from the website]?” (Ten Bells Tavern is no longer on Grubhub as of February 7.)
And Dahlke is, of course, not alone in this. Chef-owner Reyna Duong of Sandwich Hag is outspoken about her experiences with different delivery outfits that she’s tried out. Grubhub and its ilk typically take a percentage of the delivery order. “I said [to Grubhub], ‘Listen, you want 30 percent, I’m a small business, I can’t afford that.’” So they agreed to a smaller amount. Duong doesn’t recall the exact cut but estimates it was around 15 percent. When she later saw some extraneous charges, Duong couldn’t reach her account representative for an answer. After one month, Duong ended her partnership with Grubhub but it took her months to replace the food app’s links with Sandwich Hag’s own address listed on Google. “But here’s the thing…I wouldn’t be surprised if I go in, you know, maybe a few weeks or months from now and it’s back on.”
Like Dahlke, Duong has also dealt with unruly drivers (Caviar), and old menus (Postmates), so now the only third-party delivery she uses is Austin-based Favor.
Food delivery isn’t going anywhere, nor should it. Ordering and receiving a favorite dish from a favorite restaurant within an hour to your home? What a time to be alive! But I also can’t help but wonder about the consumers’ role in all this. We want our meals, occasionally at least, delivered directly to us—quickly, conveniently—and we don’t really wonder if these restaurants are all active participants.
“To me,” says Dahlke, “us being on that website represents we agree to this, and that is duplicitous at best.”
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected on February 11 to reflect that Grubhub could not trace a recent, Sunday order to Ten Bells, and therefore holds that is was not a Gruhub driver who made threats.