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Seattle cracks down on food delivery apps with one of the strictest laws in country

Tan Vinh, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Two years ago, Grubhub, Postmates and other delivery app services were not household names around Seattle. But after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all restaurants to temporarily shut their dining rooms during the pandemic, many chefs pivoted to takeout and delivery, relying on multiple app-based services to handle their orders.

Even restaurants that didn't contract with these third-party apps were unwillingly forced into the delivery ecosystem as their menus were posted on apps without the restaurant's consent.

To gain market share in the cutthroat delivery-services realm, many third-party apps try to list as many restaurants as possible, even using old menus from Google searches to give customers more variety to choose from.

Problems often arise when delivery sites post old menus without the knowledge or consent of restaurants: seasonal menus and pricing are outdated. Many chefs also don't do to-go orders or offer only a limited menu because many entrees don't travel well.

When a customer orders from an old menu that the kitchen can't fill, that's when restaurateurs, delivery drivers and customers start the finger pointing at each other over the unfilled deliveries, several owners said.

Matt Storm, owner of the pizzeria The Masonry, said his Neapolitan-style pie doesn't hold up well sitting in a pizza box for 30 minutes, so he doesn't offer delivery and discourages customers from ordering pizza for takeout. Yet, delivery services continue to advertise his pizza on their platforms, he said.

He recalled one courier who demanded he make a duck egg pizza since a customer had already paid for it with a credit card after seeing that outdated menu item on the delivery app.

 

"There is literally no duck egg here. I can't magically pull one out of my (expletive)," Storm recalled telling the angry delivery driver.

Sundberg, the owner of two critically acclaimed restaurants, Manolin and Rupee Bar, said for a year he used his own employees to do food deliveries to keep his staff employed during the pandemic. He didn't realize he had a competitor: Grubhub and other delivery services, which posted old menus from his two restaurants without his consent.

"We had one customer (who) ordered six items, five of which are things we haven't had for about a year," said Sundberg. "I have reached out to these companies in the past to get our names and logos and menus off the sites because there were three to four of these [to-go orders] a week. ... We can't fill these orders."

Every time he contacted the delivery services to take his businesses off their sites, his menus would be "back up in six or eight months," he said.

Other restaurants that signed an agreement with delivery services say it's difficult to end the partnership. Uttam Mukherjee, co-owner of the popular street Indian food counter Spice Waala on Capitol Hill and in the Ballard neighborhood, originally signed with Grubhub to handle its delivery. But in February, when drivers repeatedly showed up 90 minutes late to deliver fries and wraps that had turned cold and mushy, Mukherjee demanded Grubhub stop delivering his food because it was hurting his restaurant's reputation.

"I called them twice to take us down (and said), 'You do not have permission to use our menus without our knowledge,' " he recalled. "They would say, 'Sorry, we didn't know.' And a couple of weeks later we would get another order from Grubhub."

©2021 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.