Restaurants complaining about Grubhub, etc. are missing the mark

Another odd dustup involving the gig economy popped up in Philadelphia this week. But instead of the usual suspects, this one involves food delivery services such as Grubhub, Postmates and DoorDash. Complaints are being raised, not by the government, but by local restaurants upset to find that their food was being offered through those services without anyone consulting them first. Let the kvetching begin! (CBS Philadelphia)

If you plan on ordering in this weekend, pay close attention to how you’re getting your food. A growing number of restaurants say they’re showing up on popular delivery apps against their will.

“We were just absolutely blown away that, one being our intellectual property which they cannot have that without or consent, was put on there,” said Christine Konda, co-owner of Cornerstone Bistro and Artisanal.

That’s how the co-owner of Cornerstone Bistro and Artisanal describes the moment she found out the Radnor Township restaurant was listed on Grubhub and Postmates without her knowledge.

The complaints from the restaurant owners seem to fall into two or three categories. One is the fact that they never agreed to “partner with” the delivery service. Another involves questions over whether the delivery service will impact their customer satisfaction or quality standards. The last has to do with the alleged theft of intellectual property.

Of all of these, the only issue that appears to have any merit is the last one. If the restaurant has an online menu and the delivery service lifts all of the images, names of the dishes, etc. and puts it on their app, they may indeed have stolen protected web content. The way around that, of course, is to build the menu offering without proprietary images or using anything resembling their menu, while still allowing customers to select the dishes they want.

Beyond that, it’s tough to see what the restaurant owners are complaining about or why they would object in the first place. These delivery services are doing free marketing for them. Either you offer takeout food as an option or you don’t. If you don’t, then there is no issue since there’s no product available to deliver. And if you do offer a takeout menu, anyone can buy the food.

The way the delivery services operate is to have the customer make the selections via their phone and pay with a credit card. Then the order is placed with the restaurant remotely. The driver arrives and picks up the food. What possible impact could this have on the customer experience?

Once you accept a takeout order, prepare the food and accept payment for it, what the person does with the food is their business. Making an order through Grubhub is no different than calling in an order and asking your friend or relative to run over and pick it up for you. The food still winds up at the same destination and the restaurant is paid the same amount of money. What sort of business model are you operating on when you complain about a chance for more people to purchase your dishes?

I’m sorry, but this just sounds crazy to me. Even in a strong economy, the foodservice industry is a tough place to turn a profit. People who tend to stay at home and order delivery are very unlikely to walk into your restaurant. But if your menu shows up on the apps offered by these services, new potential customer markets open up. And you were already making the food anyway. You’re just selling more of it to people you don’t wind up meeting in person.

And just for the record, when CBS contacted Postmates about this they seemed genuinely surprised that any business owners would complain. But they also said that there’s an option right on their app to have the restaurant removed from the list. It’s just such a maddeningly petty argument to make.