Even prior to shelter-in-place orders forcing restaurants to shutter their once-bustling dining rooms, food delivery had become a vital part of the restaurant industry. Third-party delivery services like Grub Hub, DoorDash, and Caviar make it appear as though outsourcing delivery is a quick fix for restaurants looking to up their delivery game. The reality, however, is more complicated. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the industry topsy-turvy and owners are scrambling to establish off-premises delivery programs.
Critics are concerned fees associated with third-party partners are too high and inflexible allowing companies to profit from pandemic panic in the restaurant industry. In addition to charging 20-30 percent per order, gig-economy partners like Grubub charge restaurants an up-front fee to establish service — and that fee goes up or down based on customer behavior.
At this critical time, however, platforms like GrubHub and DoorDash are offering local restaurants a lifeline when they need it most and avoiding their use can also harm independent establishments who don’t have the capability to deliver otherwise.
Now more than ever the majority of folks looking to order delivered restaurant fare are looking to keep dollars inside their local economy and in the pockets of restaurateurs. Keep this in mind before you order:
- To keep all money in the hands of your local restaurant order directly from the establishment for curb side pick-up or independent delivery.
- Go to a restaurant website to place an order through their personal GrubHub or DooDash page. The fees charged by ordering from a private page are less than going through a third-party platform.
- GrubHub or DoorDash charge a restaurant more in fees if customers search on their sites for a type of food or a specific restaurant before placing an order through the site. Avoid going to a third party site to place an order and you’ll keep money in the hands of your local small business owners.
Outside of the national level, local restaurants have strong opinions on third party delivery platforms in our community and what it means for the future of their restaurants:
Papaspiros, 728 Lake St., is known for its Greek cuisine. Like every restaurant, it is fighting tostay afloat. While it has used GrubHub’s services for a couple years now, Papaspiros hinted thatit prefers customers go through its website to order to avoid the massive commission fee GrubHub takes from restaurants.
“Yes, we prefer that people order directly,” said owner Spiro Papageorge. “We only have onedelivery [driver] who works for us, but he has another job so it’s like we are married [toGrubHub]. We are trying to minimize the costs of having [a third-party delivery service] becauseit is not worth having a GrubHub deliver and take one third of the cost.”
The delivery driver that the restaurant utilizes only works four days a week, meaning Papaspiroshas to use GrubHub for deliveries when that employee isn’t dropping off food. Papageorgesaid his establishment is looking for another delivery person to limit the costs that third-party services deduct.
Before the global outbreak of COVID-19, Papaspiros also made profits off catering. Sinceshelter-in-place protocols were placed, the restaurant has seen a rise in catering requests whichhelps make up for some of the delivery costs. According to Papageorge, their catering ordershave doubled since last year.
“We are known for our catering and that is what is saving us right now,” said Papageorge.“We thank everyone for their support.”
“This situation is far from ideal,” said Wil Greenwald, co-owner of Kettlestrings Tavern. “But it’s better to be open for business than closed.”
Things are going well at Kettlestrings Tavern, 800 S. Oak Park Ave., considering the corner bar opened the very weekend restaurant dining rooms were forced to close. Its owners were quick to turn to GrubHub and DoorDash to expand the reach of their young restaurant in the community.
“We didn’t have the infrastructure or staff in place to handle deliveries on our own,” said Greenwald. “Three of our employees walk to work and don’t have cars so this was a seamless solution for us.”
Kettlestrings offers curbside pick-up, but all deliveries go through GrubHub or DoorDash. Greenwald said there are up-front and percentage fees per order and small marketing fees associated with the service. Greenwald confirmed fees vary by how customers place an order and, for Kettlestrings customers looking to place an order for delivery, going to the restaurant website to access the apps does increase their profit margin on the order.
“We know people may not be able to leave their homes because of their kids or busy schedules so DoorDash and GrubHub are helping us meet the needs of our customers,” said Greenwald. “In the past month, we have filled more than a hundred orders through the apps, and I know that is far more business than we would have done without them.”
Greenwald indicated this is a temporary solution that works for Kettlestrings in the short run. He was quick to say his tavern would develop its own delivery program if the need for delivered fare continued indefinitely.
Facebook update from Kettlestrings on 4/20:
A little orange car turned delivery vehicle is frequently featured on One Lake Brewing’s social media timeline. The electric Fiat is eco-friendly and owned by brewery co-owner Kristin Alfonsi. She serves as One Lake’s delivery driver and says people smile as soon as she pulls up in the electric car. The restaurant, 1 Lake St. in Oak Park, is under a year old and did not have a robust carry-out business prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Rather than outsource delivery, Alfonsi said it was more important to rely on One Lake staff and owners to develop a contact-free delivery service. Minimizing variables and keeping control of their deliveries ensures they are safely bringing burgers, wings, beer and wine to homes in the community.
Alfonsi acknowledged One Lake’s decision to handle deliveries in-house allows the business to keep more of their hard-earned money, but finances were not the primary factor in making the decision.
“We knew the apps took a substantial cut, so it wasn’t even an option for us,” said Alfonsi. “I volunteered [to drive delivery] right away, and we felt it was important to thank customers personally.”
Alfonsi enjoys being out in the community and has gotten to know more families as she delivers to repeat customers.“I have had lots of emotions during this process from scared, anxious, happy, but mostly tons of gratitude,” said Alfonsi. “People are pulling for us to keep the lights on and [want to] be up on our rooftop this summer.”
For over 40 years, Al’s Grill, 1100 Madison St., established itself as a diner with a uniquefamily atmosphere. Just two months ago Al’s Grill started using DoorDash as aresource for delivery.
“[A couple months ago] we decided to try it,” said Al’s Grill general manager PetroMourtokokis. “For a family owned business like us where we try to keep our prices down, thepercentage that [third-party delivery services] take hurts. But we have been able to justify theloss due to the amount of orders we’ve had through DoorDash.”
Right now, Al’s Grill only uses DoorDash. The reason that Mourtokokis chose to try it out overother services is due to the volume of orders that were requested before Al’s Grill partneredwith DoorDash.
“Even if you aren’t partnered with [a third-party delivery service] and you have a popularrestaurant, people can still place an order for us from DoorDash, Uber Eats, or whatever theyuse,” said Mourtokokis. “The difference is that we aren’t connected with them so we don’t getthe order directly. The driver or a place like DoorDash is the one to place the order.”
Mourtokokis said DoorDash is taking the same commission cut that it was receivingbefore shelter-in-place protocols were placed. However, from April 4 to 10, the diner received 132orders which is more than what it was receiving on a weekly basis before the pandemicdisrupted the restaurant industry.
Even through these difficult circumstances, Mourtokokis is confident the business willovercome this moment of crisis.
“We are going to be here,” he said. “That I can promise everyone. We are going to be here.”