What really goes on behind-the-scenes of Michiana's favorite food delivery services?
For people around Michiana, food delivery is the future and something many have been relying on even more during the pandemic.
However, Michiana business owners are upset because they say these companies put a strain on profits and time while not being transparent about how the process works.
ABC57 Investigates spent weeks digging deeper to find out what is really going on behind-the-scenes of Michiana’s favorite food delivery apps.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Coney Express owner Timothy Zentz said. “We need it, but it hurts us at the same time.”
“They come in with their phone, they’ll stick it right in your face and say ‘I’m here for this food and it’s just a shock to us,” The Prized Pig owner Jeremy Vohwinkle said.
Local business owner after local business owners expressed frustration time and time again with corporate food delivery services, such as Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats. Each service advertises a similar mission—to bring a customer’s food with as little hassle as possible. However, just because a customer orders from the app, does not mean the restaurant is a willing partner.
“For at least the last six months, I’ve had multiple locations that have been on GrubHub, that we have not asked to be on GrubHub or given them permission to be on GrubHub,” Mitch’s Corner owner Mitch Zultanski said.
“The biggest problem is listing without our consent, and usually they’re pulling information that’s either outdated or just completely wrong,” Vohwinkle said.
“They are pulling menus from years ago and using them and the prices are different,” Zentz said.
“The customers call the restaurant and try and check on the order, see if they are ready, however the order is not under their name and we don’t have such information to provide to them,” Managing Partner at Woochi Jeremy Young said.
Jeremy Young is a managing partner at Woochi Japanese Fusion & Bar in downtown South Bend. Every new delivery service wants Woochi on their menu, even without permission, according to Young.
Young said because Woochi’s name is trademarked, it is a violation of copyright law for these delivery platforms to take the restaurant’s name and place it on apps, advertisements and anything else they use to lure customers without their permission.
That does not mean the apps are not still doing it. If a restaurant does not have an agreement with a company, Michiana business owners said it’s the customer at home paying higher delivery fees or menu prices.
“They are doing that every single day,” Young said. “All of them. And the new, more and more new websites are coming out every single day.”
Each new app or service means a new legal battle for Jeremy and his business partners.
“They use their corporation payment card to pay and a lot of times, I’ll say like, maybe 1/3—their card didn’t go through, however the order has been made,” Young said.
The card is provided by the company to the driver for some orders and when it declines it is the restaurant taking a hit in profit and time away from customer orders.
“We still try to satisfy all of the customers’ needs,” Young said.
One way local businesses have been trying to improve customer service is by partnering exclusively with some of these services.
Woochi and The Prized Pig both use DoorDash and by partnering with the company, it allows ordering to be done through the restaurant which cuts down on communication issues.
“When you have these third-party applications, they don’t know your inventory,” Vohwinkle said.
The partnerships do not come cheap, according to Zentz.
“I mean they just, they rob you blind,” Zentz said. “When they take 30, 40% that’s you know, that pretty much leaves us with no profit.”
The exclusive partnerships have helped, but problems still arise and business owners argue it is tough to get help.
“It just seems like there’s nobody looking at or watching out, making sure that this is being done right,” Zentz said.
“I hate to say it, but normal conversation doesn’t work normally,” Zultanski said. “You have to explain to them that you’re going to call a lawyer or do something to finally get off.”
“So it takes up a lot of our time to try to correct these issues,” Vohwinkle said.
Several owners said they worry that a customer’s potential impression will be based off of an issue that is not the restaurant’s fault.
“That really is our biggest concern,” Vohwinkle said. “They don’t know we’re not officially partnered with them. So they call us, they’re upset with us. And if they don’t get something right, or they’re charged the wrong amount, they’re gonna go online, leave that bad review and it’s out of our hands. So that’s why we’ve tried to curb all these unauthorized delivery services and stick with the one we’re working with. But fighting that negative perception is our biggest hurdle.”
Business owners ask for patience and understanding if something goes wrong with a delivery and had some tips to make the experience better.
“Always contact the restaurant first to let them know what happened,” Zentz said.
“Don’t just assume that the restaurant messed up like it, it’s really out of our hands most of the time,” Vohwinkle said. “And we’d love to make it right. We want to make things as good as possible for the customer.”
That is why owners suggested ordering takeout or delivery directly through the restaurant, especially since some like Mitch’s Corner, do not even deliver in the first place.
“I would like to see like a class action suit with all these other restaurants because I know we’re not the only one that struggle with this,” Vohwinkle said. “And during a time when we’re already struggling as it is, it’s now putting burden on us to try to satisfy these customers the best we can at the same time taking the negative hit that we’re seeing when these companies don’t follow through on their end.”
“And this is not going to go away,” Zentz said. “This is the future. More people are going to eat at home or eat at the office than they are going to come out.”
“Hopefully they can do something in the right way to keep their business doing the third parties, and also can provide the right service to the customers,” Young said.
ABC57 reached out to each of the major delivery service platforms for comment. Postmates did not return any request for comment.
Uber Eats issued the following statement:
“We know that consumers come to Uber Eats looking for great selection, and that merchants are increasingly looking for flexible ways to build their business. That’s why we occasionally send orders to non-partnered merchants to demonstrate the value of working with us—many restaurants choose to keep this commission-free model while others decide to become contracted merchant partners. We’ll continue to improve on the ways we work with merchants based on their feedback and feedback from industry.”
DoorDash issued the following statements:
“DoorDash was founded as a platform to help grow local businesses. While the majority of the merchants on our platform have partnerships with us, we have occasionally listed restaurants at no cost as a helpful trial before entering a formal partnership that provides additional benefits and services. For those not interested in being on DoorDash for any reason, we will remove them from the platform within 48 hours of receiving the request.”
Grubhub issued the following statement:
"Grubhub is committed to helping restaurants during this challenging time, and we place restaurants on our platform to generate more orders for restaurants and offer diners variety. We’re developing tools that make it easier for restaurants to claim their menus or request to be removed from our platform, and if a restaurant would not like to be included on Grubhub, they can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org."