Last week, the N.H. Senate passed a bill designed to stop online delivery services from damaging the reputations of Granite State restaurants. The bill has already passed the House, meaning it’s now headed for the governor’s desk. He ought to sign it.
The precautions put on restaurants during the pandemic have heightened both the tenuous nature of such businesses (80 percent of restaurants fail within five years of opening, even in the best of times) and the essential role home delivery plays in the modern marketplace, for many dining establishments.
Under COVID restrictions, takeout and delivery was, for months, the only way to stay open. Even after some indoor dining was allowed, many patrons remained reluctant to eat indoors in a restaurant.
Even prior to the pandemic, food delivery services, relying on apps such as DoorDash, GrubHub, Uber Eats and Postmates, were becoming major players in the growing service/gig economy. They were eating into individual restaurants’ own delivery services and causing problems.
The services aren’t inherently bad; many restaurant owners say they’ve really helped keep business flowing, especially during the pandemic. Gail Somers, who owns Yahso Jamaican Grille in downtown Keene, said the restaurant began using DoorDash and Uber Eats last summer in an effort to expand its clientele. She said orders through the delivery services tripled during the pandemic, helping Yahso offset much of the in-person business it lost. Somers also thinks the restaurant’s presence on those companies’ online platforms attracted new customers in recent months.
And that’s perhaps the biggest benefit: expanded reach. Being on a service like DoorDash or GrubHub means being seen by hungry area residents who might otherwise not even have known you existed, or who might not have thought of your business.
The downsides, however, are multiple. First is the cost, both to the business and the customer. These apps charge the customer a delivery fee (sometimes multiple fees), and a tip is expected. You’d think most people ordering through a third-party app would realize they’re paying extra for that service, but not everyone does, meaning customers can come away thinking the restaurant’s prices are higher than they really are, or at least, keep them from ordering as often. Then there’s the hit the restaurant takes. Though they’ve varied pricing during the pandemic, delivery apps charge as much as 20 to 30 percent to the restaurants. That eats into any profit the restaurants themselves would see on the order.
A bigger issue, and the one the new law would try to correct, is that the apps don’t always work hand-in-hand with the business. To begin with, the delivery people aren’t employees of the restaurants, nor are they technically employed by the services. They can choose not to accept orders that won’t earn them enough to make it worth their while. But as the service is contacting driver after driver, seeking someone to deliver the order, time is wasting, and food may be getting cold.
That’s if the food was even ordered in the first place. Because the biggest issue is the services don’t always keep track of when businesses are open, or even what’s on their menus. Tracy Gunn, owner of the former Willie Mac’s and The Flight Deck, said DoorDash showed the two restaurants as open when they had temporarily closed last spring, leading people to place orders that could not be fulfilled. Both have since closed permanently for other reasons.
And other Granite State eateries have reported delivery apps showing items they don’t carry and taking orders even when the restaurants weren’t partnered with them, leading to drivers showing up to collect orders that had never actually been placed, and unnecessarily long waits for customers, who may not even get what they were told was available.
House Bill 593 would require authorization from a restaurant for a food app to take orders and deliver meals. There would be a $100 fine for each order not made with the restaurant’s permission. Given that no service should be presenting itself as working with a restaurant with which it doesn’t have a relationship, that makes sense to us. The only downside we see to the bill is the late amendment added that gives the apps until September before it goes into effect. That’s plenty of time for a restaurant already facing an uncertain future amid a pandemic to be harmed. The delivery services don’t need time to adjust; they can just stop advertising restaurants with which they don’t have a relationship. Despite that shortcoming, the bill should be enacted.