‘There’s an ethical issue here’ local restaurant owners say they’re added to delivery apps without notice or agreement

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WTAJ)–When “stay at home” orders started across the United States, many restaurants turned to delivery to stay in business during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Orders on delivery applications like Grubhub and Doordash increased as a result…but some orders made on these apps were never agreed to by the restaurant..and some local owners said they never knew their business was on the app.

WTAJ sat down with local businesses who said this happened to them.

Delivery driver for who?

Imagine a food delivery app driver walks into a restaurant and asks to pick up an order. This sounds simple enough… except the restaurant doesn’t have a partnership with the delivery app.

The restaurant owner is then told that their establishment was added to the app without his or her permission, and in fact a food order was already placed.

This is exactly what happened to the owners of Main Bay & Berry (MBB) in State College, and they’re not alone… owners and restaurant workers across Centre County, Central PA, and the nation are facing the same situation.

Now, some restaurant owners feel the need to fight back against this practice some claim is both illegal and unethical.

Maine Bay & Berry’s “Grubhub Account

“There’s a mistake here, we don’t have any kind of relationship with this company,” this was the reaction of Shaun Knight, Co-Owner of Maine Bay & Berry when he found out his restaurant was on Grubhub.

He said a delivery driver walked into his restaurant asking for a lobster roll.

“We were confused by that because we’re the only ones who deliver to our customers,” Knight said.

He had no contract with Grubhub, but said it was apparent that didn’t matter.

“After a couple minutes of conversation, the driver came to the point of saying he was with Grubhub and was there for a delivery pickup. We said we don’t partner with Grubhub, he said no you do partner with Grubhub–he pulled out his phone and showed an order that was transacted,” Knight said.

Knight then called Grubhub.

“They indicated they put us on their platform without our knowledge or information and offered our food to the public,” he said.

His reaction: “Surprised… because there was no formal agreement and we strategically had made a decision prior to this that we won’t use a service like Grubhub–because of the nature of what we serve. Seafood doesn’t transport well and safely if there’s a long delay between the time it’s made and the time it’s delivered.”

He continued: “I have never heard of any type of business unilaterally mandating a partnership with them without express consent from that company.”

Grubhub confirmed that someone in their company did create MBB’s account, but would not confirm to WTAJ who has the authority to do so, they also did not give details on where they gather restaurant information for creating the account.

WTAJ: “Can Grubhub confirm who is able to create an account for restaurants not officially affiliated with Grubhub?”

Grubhub spokesperson: “We have an internal process to identify and handle adding these restaurants.”

Pictured below, are screen shots of the account Grubhub created for MBB. Knight reports they used an incorrect logo, posted some incorrect menu items, and priced items between 15% and 20% higher.

Fresh Seafood | Maine Bay & Berry Co. | United States
Maine Bay & Berry’s logo
Above is a Google ad to order Maine Bay & Berry on Grubhub

Knight said the images above are a misrepresentation of his restaurant. He feels the inconsistent branding, coupled with menu and price inaccuracies could drive customers away.

“They were portraying our company in a way that’s not accurate. They’re putting prices in that aren’t even ours—so if we have a perspective new customer that’s looking at us as a potential visit–maybe they’re saying they’re too expensive for me—so they won’t even come and visit,” Knight said.

On the app, there was no disclaimer stating there’s no official partnership with MBB. Knight said this also misleads customers to wrongfully believe there’s an affiliation between Grubhub and MBB.

He claims this was the case for a customer who ordered on the app.

“She said I thought Maine Bay & Berry was part of the system because I saw your name and menu on there,” Knight said.

He told WTAJ that five Grubhub drivers entered his restaurant looking for orders on the first day MBB was on the Grubhub application. Knight did fill the first order he received, but not the other four.

“It’s terrible, absolutely, terrible,” Knight said. “We were being forced to participate in their platform, without any type of permission on our behalf.”

Knight feels Grubhub clearly crossed a moral line.

“We know there’s an ethical issue here, you can’t make us partner with somebody else–that’s the nature of business, you partner with who you like,” he said. “When you force us to be a partner and we have no say in what you do—that’s a big problem for us… I don’t even know how the company can state that that’s an appropriate practice.”

He has reached out to PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro recounting his story, and passing along a simple message: “The practice needs to stop.”

When WTAJ last spoke with Knight, he had yet to hear back from Shapiro’s office.

The legality of Grubhub/other app’s practices, will be covered by WTAJ’s legal analyst later in this article.

The process of being taken off Grubhub

Knight called Grubhub immediately requesting MBB be removed from the app. He received the letter below.

As indicated in the letter, Grubhub customers could not place orders with MBB for the rest of the day, however it would take two to three business days for the restaurant to be removed from the app. During these two-to-three days, it’s possible that more unwanted Grubhub orders could be made.

Knight said after communicating his displeasure with Grubhub, MBB was removed from the app. before the two-to-three day time frame.

He also noted: “I find it interesting that you need to receive a letter with steps to follow–requiring authorization to be removed from the system–but there was no business authorization to be put on the app.”

At the conclusion of Grubhub’s letter above, they offered a chance for official partnership.

“This is likened to an online mafia. They bring you into the family, beat you up in the process, and then say if you want to get out–here’s the out–or you can take the easy way out and just partner with us,” Knight said.

Other concerns from MBB

Knight also voiced sympathy for Grubhub drivers in this process.

“Drivers are hung out to dry because of this practice. They don’t make any money on a non-delivery. So if a restaurant doesn’t know about an order, and refuses to complete it–the driver wasted their time for nothing.”

One of Knight’s biggest frustrations is that he had no way of reaching out to customers (with canceled orders) to explain what happened. He feels this may have burned a bridge with potential consumers.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard here to have a very good reputation in this area. If you look at the better business bureau ratings of Grubhub, they’re a ‘C’ rating–and I don’t want to be associated with a ‘C’ rating.”

Not alone… and not just Grubhub

In reaching out to multiple restaurants in Centre Co. and beyond, WTAJ discovered many restaurant owners/workers who’ve experienced the exact same situation as MBB.

More than 20 Central PA restaurant leaders, many wishing to remain anonymous, confirmed they were put on a food delivery app without an agreement.

Beyond Grubhub, Doordash was a delivery app. frequently mentioned by owners.

“My experience is very similar with Doordash,” said a State College restaurant manager who wished to remain anonymous. “I’ve been in the restaurant industry in town for 10–years, everybody I’ve talked to has had an issue with either Grubhub or Doordash,” they said.

They added this is nothing new: “It was prominent about five years ago with Doordash.”

WTAJ: “Why wasn’t this reported five years ago?”

“A lot of people are so overwhelmed in the restaurant business—certain things fall through the cracks when they make it so difficult to rectify situations with them.”

The restaurant manager added that there’s no way to ensure a business is never put on Grubhub or Doordash from the start.

“In terms of being proactive and not being put on the list to begin with—I know no process in which that can happen. The way businesses usually find out they’re on the system is when delivery drivers come in and say we’re in here for an order,” they said.

Another person working Centre County restaurants, Natasha (she requested her last name remain anonymous) said she’s seen instances of both Doordash and Grubhub drivers attempting to pick up pizza orders from restaurants who have no affiliation with the delivery apps.

She recounted two specific instances of this in the fall of 2019 (one at the Brother’s Pizza along the Benner Pike, and the other at Brother’s Pizza on Hamilton Ave. in State College).

Natasha said when the drivers were told the shops don’t work with food delivery apps., the drivers then pretended they were regular customers picking up an order.

Anna Crucitt, a restaurant owner in the Pittsburgh area experienced this too–with Grubhub.

“It was kinda out of nowhere–people would call in–not telling you where they’re from–to pick up food and pay for orders with a Grubhub credit card.”

Note: If a restaurant has no official affiliation with Grubhub/Doordash, the eatery is not charged an additional fee for filling a delivery app. order. The drivers pay the restaurant through a Grubhub or Doordash credit card.

Crucitt said she’s open to the concept of trying delivery apps… but feels some apps. are easier than others to work with.

“We have a good working [official] relationship with Postmates. Any issue with the menu, we’d call them and they’d make adjustments–same with pricing,” she said.

She added that her restaurant has no official partnership with Doordash, but she’s “ok” working with the company’s online ordering system (not their phone app) because under the system, customers order directly off the restaurant’s official website. A Doordash driver simply picks up the order.

Crucitt said her main issue was with an unofficial connection with Grubhub.

“When I went on Grubhub and checked my menu, they added food that I don’t even make…from years ago,” she said.

This caused problems as Grubhub drivers had to relay to customers that some menu items presented on the Grubhub app. were not available.

“I had dozens of complaints from customers I couldn’t reach out to, and still can’t reach out too because only Grubhub had their contact info,” Crucitt said.

She added: “When I called Grubhub about the menu inaccuracies, it was the most bizarre conversation. All I said was I wanted Grubhub to make the proper menu updates. I was told that Grubhub only makes adjustments for exclusive partners, and that I’d have to sign up to partner with Grubhub to make adjustments to my menu.”

Crucitt said she told the woman on the phone: “But it’s my menu. Why do I have to officially partner with you to change it?…How do you want me to work with you as a partner when you’re doing something totally immoral?”

She then requested to be removed from the Grubhub app.

She claims she was told: “We can send you an email to get off of the app. and we can have it to you in two weeks.”

She told WTAJ it took at least three weeks for her restaurant to be removed from Grubhub. During this three week period, she said Grubhub orders–with an improper menu on the app– continued to be placed.

Grubhub’s Response

WTAJ reached out to Grubhub asking the following questions:

  • How is it that restaurants can appear on Grubhub (for orders) with a menu and prices–if the restaurant owners do not have any desire or contract with Grubhub?
  • Do you feel Grubhub is legally allowed to present a restaurant’s food/pricing on their app which they have no official affiliation with?
  • Are there potential issues with presenting improper branding, logo, business hours, pricing, and menu of non-Grubhub affiliated restaurants (since this information is not coming from the restaurant itself)?
  • How is a non-Grubhub affiliated restaurant paid by Grubhub if they have no contract with Grubhub?
  • Is there a way for restaurants to ensure they are kept off of Grubhub indefinitely?
  • Does Grubhub feel that the practice of presenting a restaurant to users, without disclaimer that the restaurant is not affiliated with Grubhub (and potentially wrong information on that restaurant) an ethical business practice?

Below is the initial response from a Grubhub spokesperson:

“We know these are tough times for independent restaurants, and our mission since we were founded in 2004 has been to connect hungry diners with great, local restaurants. Partnering with more than 200,000 takeout restaurants in over 4,000 U.S. cities, the vast majority of our orders are and will continue to be from these restaurants we partner with. 

Starting in late 2019 in select cities across the country, we’ll add restaurants to our marketplace when we see local diner demand for delivery so the restaurant can receive more orders and revenue from deliveries completed by our drivers. This is a model that other food delivery companies have been doing for years as a way to widen their restaurant supply, and we’re trying it as well to close the restaurant supply gap created by our competitors. 

We strongly believe partnering with restaurants is the only way to drive long-term value in this business – which is why we support efforts by local officials in Philadelphia and other cities across the country to prevent non-partnered restaurants from being listed on platforms without the restaurant’s prior consent. 
The restaurant pays us no commission on these orders and is paid directly for the order since our drivers pay via credit card. We work to provide accurate menus and hours for these restaurants on our marketplace based on available information online. If a restaurant prefers not to be on our marketplace or needs to change any information like menu items or hours, they should reach out to us at restaurants@grubhub.com, and we’ll work as quickly as possible to make necessary updates or remove them.”

In the statement, Grubhub said they add restaurants to their app. when they see “local diner demand.” They also state that the model they follow is used by other delivery app. companies… so they’re following the same model to stay competitive.

However, in the paragraph immediately following Grubhub’s rationale for their practices, they then state they are supporting efforts by officials to stop platforms from listing restaurants without the restaurant’s prior consent.

WTAJ’s legal analyst attorney Tony DeBoef said based on the statement, Grubhub is supporting stopping a practice which they’re currently following.

“They’re just being ambiguous, because at this point they can play both sides of the coin,” he said.

WTAJ again reached out to Grubhub for clarification.

WTAJ: “The third paragraph appears to contradict points made in the second paragraph. The third paragraph states that Grubhub supports officials who are looking to stop restaurants–who don’t give consent–from being listed on delivery apps (like Grubhub). How can Grubhub’s current policy allow restaurants–without Grubhub affiliation–to be listed on the app, while they also support efforts to prevent the very practice they’re currently carrying out?

Grubhub: “As mentioned in that paragraph, we are trying this model as a way to close the restaurant supply gap created by our competitors – we don’t prefer this model. We support local efforts to prevent this model across the industry since we believe that partnering with restaurants is the only way to drive long-term value in this business. Simply put, we are in support of measures that promote a level playing field.”

WTAJ also followed-up, re-asking Grubhub a question left unanswered in their first statement.

WTAJ: “The second paragraph of the statement indicates local demand–not a contract agreement–dictates whether or not a restaurant could be listed on Grubhub. The rationale given for this is that other delivery companies do this, so Grubhub is as well to stay competitive. But, does the company believe this action is legal?”

Grubhub: “It’s our aim to bring the best delivery experience possible while balancing the interests of our diners, restaurants and drivers, and complying with all local laws and regulations in connection with our business.”

WTAJ: “Is there a way for restaurants to ensure they are kept off of Grubhub indefinitely? (Or request not to be on Grubhub before they are originally listed without an affiliation?)”

Grubhub: “Restaurants can reach out to restaurants@grubhub.com.”

Is this practice legal?

Attorney DeBoef said the answer is clear.

“No. This is a consumer fraud issue–a restaurant fraud issue-it boarders on a criminal act,” he said, “You can’t just show up at a business and say you sold something… when they didn’t. My suggestion to anybody going through is to go through consumer fraud protection and contact the State Attorney General’s office.

WTAJ: “Are there other possible legal issues with a delivery app. misrepresenting a restaurant’s brand, menu, and prices?”

Attorney DeBoef: “Anybody can say anything they want with little basis for truth–that brings up another layer of responsibility for Grubhub, Doordash, or other entities like them. And for restaurants around here our DA and AG are going to be tying up courts for things like slander and libel.”

Doordash’s Response

WTAJ reached out to Doordash with the same original questions asked of Grubhub.

Below is the response from a Doordash spokesperson:

“DoorDash was founded as a platform to help grow local businesses, and restaurants tell us that being on DoorDash brings them new customers and incremental revenue. While the majority of the merchants on our platform have partnerships with us, we will occasionally offer to act as a courier service for customers to restaurants in their neighborhood. This listing is at no cost to the restaurant, and orders are paid for in the same way that any other customer would. For many restaurants, being listed on our app is considered a helpful trial test towards a formal partnership that provides additional benefits and services. For those not interested in being on DoorDash for any reason, we remove them from the platform upon their request.”

WTAJ followed-up by asking: “Does DoorDash feel it’s legal to add a restaurant to their app without the restaurant’s permission?”

Doordash spokesperson: “We always work to follow all laws in good faith.”

WTAJ also asked if Doordash has considered the potential negative impact of not allowing restaurants to opt-out of the app before being placed on it (given there could be circumstances where even one day with a restaurant on the app could permanently deter restaurant customers).

Spokesperson response: “If they want to be removed from the app, they can contact us.”

As written in their statement, Doordash feels their practices act as a trial run for restaurants to officially partner with the company.

A spokesperson claimed the company has had a great deal of success in acquiring restaurant partnerships by using their “courier service” practice–particularly in larger cities. The spokesperson said it gives businesses the chance to find out how successful they can be.

Throughout interviews with MBB’s co-owner Shaun Knight, he emphasized that he has nothing against the services Grubhub and Doordash provide to their official restaurant partners.

Knight said delivery app services are not needed in his business, and that he didn’t need a “trial run” to figure this out.

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