Tips For Ordering Delivery If You Want More Of Your Money To Go To Local Restaurants

Published Sep 22, 2020

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It's a pandemic. You're overwhelmed. You're exhausted. The thought of cooking another meal fills you with dread. So you decide to treat yourself to delivery.

It's a win-win, you think, giving yourself an extra pat on the back for supporting local businesses.

The pandemic has been punishing for the restaurant industry, and if your favorite spot is even still around, it's probably hanging on because of delivery and takeout.

But among restaurant owners, there's a growing frustration and resentment with the third-party apps making those options possible.

Those aren't new feelings -- restaurants have been frustrated with delivery apps long before the coronavirus. The situation is just more dire now.

L.A. establishments are struggling to survive in a world where dining out currently means outdoor dining -- a few tables spaced out on a sidewalk or a dolled-up parking lot, perhaps.

And most restaurants, unless they're part of a huge chain, already had razor-thin profit margins -- about 6%, according to one financial statement analysis.

So, what's a concerned Angeleno to do? We have some tips.

Below is a look at how much tech companies are actually biting from restaurants' would-be profits, what your options are for delivery and takeout, and how to make informed decisions about where to spend your dough.

Read it now before you get too hangry.

- THE BIG FOUR -

Postmates. UberEats. Grubhub. DoorDash/Caviar.

When restaurants sign up with one of these services they might increase orders and/or their customer base, but they're also potentially losing a huge chunk of money.

According to restaurant owners and company reps, the apps seem to typically get about a 15-30% cut. That applies even when customers are picking up their own food.

Most of the apps -- which are essentially large tech companies -- don't share details about those commissions and fees with consumers.

We emailed each company for specifics, with mixed success.

UberEats told us their commissions are 15% to 30%. In an email shared with LAist from a local business owner, UberEats stated their standard commission rate as 30%.

Grubhub said their platform is "free," but if restaurants want the company to provide delivery drivers, that'll cost 10% of the total order. It's another 15% if a restaurant wants a menu featured.

Postmates did not provide commission/fee information.

DoorDash/Caviar did not provide commission/fee information.

Here are a few local examples from restaurant owners who've used them.

May Matsuo-Rose, who runs Don-Don Curry (and closed the kitchen during the pandemic), told us the she was being charged the following commissions: 25% Postmates, 30% UberEats, 30% DoorDash 30% (cut to 15% when the pandemic hit), 33% Grubhub (30% commission plus a 3% "processing fee")

Wirt Morton, who co-owns Tito's Tacos in Culver City, said the lowest commission any delivery app offered him was 17%. "We would lose money on every delivery. It just didn't make sense," he said .

Meanwhile, UberEats has seen self sign-ups from restaurants increase tenfold since the start of the pandemic. And they didn't significantly lower their rates in March, when dining rooms across the country were forced to shut down due to COVID-19.

Christy Vega, owner of Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks, told LAist they were "not going to give 30% to companies that show no compassion for our industry at this time ... It's just crazy. We're in a fight for our lives right now."

- ORDER BY PHONE -

Remember a time long ago before apps? Before smartphones? Before doomscolling? Thinking retro to avoid paying a tech company instead of your local restaurant: try calling them to place your order.

When your transaction happens over the phone, everything you spend goes directly to the local businesses you want to support.

"I always tell everyone to shop local, support local, even if it's just a gallon of milk," says Sara Valdes, who runs Sara's Market, in City Terrace, with her husband, Steven. "That's still a sale for that person and that's still income coming in."

Valdes says the best way to support your local restaurant is to call and "straight up ask them, 'What is the best way I can order that would benefit you the most?'"

One caveat: Try to find an independent phone number for the restaurant, instead of using the one that pops up on Yelp.

Grubhub, which has a partnership with Yelp, has replaced some restaurants' numbers with numbers it has generated so it can continue to take a commission.

If all you can find is the Yelp listing, try the number listed under "General Questions" instead of "Delivery or Takeout."

- ORDER BY WEBSITE -

Use the Google and find the restaurant's website.

Lots of establishments now have their own ordering platforms embedded there.

These might be independently created or done by a third party like Toast, a tablet-based, point-of-sale system that restaurants have used for years to process takeout orders.

Toast -- which also has its own app and is transparent about its prices -- generally charges restaurants $50 to $100 per month to use its system.

San Francisco-based coffee roasting company Sightglass has been using Toast since they opened their L.A. location in March ... one day before local Safer At Home orders went into effect.

The company's director of operations, Stanley Morris, told us the web feature has kept his business afloat. He suggests that if a restaurant has a website, customers should place their orders there.

- TRY A DIFFERENT APP -

The world is upside down. Might as well try a new app. The big four aren't your only options.

Over the last few years, a variety of tasty new apps have entered the delivery market, hoping to undercut the biggies by charging restaurants lower commissions. Here are few of them.

TOCK: At the onset of the pandemic, restaurant reservation system Tock pivoted to become a takeout -- and, in some cases, delivery -- platform. It has a website and an app, and has become the go-to option for many upscale L.A. restaurants including Bestia, n/naka and Republique. Tock charges restaurants a 3% commission on each order.

CHOW NOW: With ChowNow, restaurants pay the company a set fee instead of a commission. Joseph Badaro, owner of Hummus Labs in Pasadena, started using the app after watching 30% of his proceeds go to Grubhub. He now pays ChowNow a flat $150 a month and stopped using Grubhub in July. "It was just simple math. My sales have been increasing, like week over week. I've literally talked to every single restaurant in my building about signing up with them," Badaro says.

BELLY MELLY: - Based in Chicago, this new app charges a 5% commission fee for restaurants to use its platform. The company also donates a dollar per sale to a local charity of the restaurant's choice. Right now, only three L.A. restaurants have signed up on this platform, but the company hopes more will follow.

- MORE ABOUT THE DICEY DELIVERY DANCE -

For Restaurants Trying To Ditch Delivery Apps, The Struggle Is Real

- WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW? ASK US QUESTIONS -

Screaming into the abyss has its merits, but the abyss doesn't typically respond with useful feedback. Try us instead.

Is there something you want to understand better? We've answered thousands of questions since the world turned upside down. Yours could be next.

Illustration (top): Lisa Brenner/LAist | Source image: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

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