RICHMOND, Va., — Restaurateur Patrick Stamper called the last month “challenging” as the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to transition his West Main Street eatery into a new business model.
He closed the Beauvine Burger Concept dining room after state leaders banned social gatherings of 10 or more people.
“We converted servers and bartenders into delivery drivers and moved a lot of things inside to be a delivery-takeout only restaurant,” Stamper explained.
Stamper and his co-owners, who also run En Su Boca in Scott’s Addition, work to stay afloat when restaurants across the country laid off many of their employees.
However, nationwide delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash are frustrating restaurateurs who are working to cut costs wherever they can.
While the apps offer convenience to their customers, some restaurant owners argued they do more harm than good.
“We do business with Uber Eats and Grubhub, but we are bringing it to our customers' attention that we can get food from us for less money,” Stamper stated.
The delivery services typically charge restaurants a commission of up to 30 percent on each order, while requesting the customer pay a delivery fee.
“Those delivery companies force us to raise our prices on their menus,” Stamper said. “They’re hurting the local economy and they hurt small restaurants like us.”
For instance, a consumer would be charged a dollar more for a Beauvine burger if ordered through the Uber Eats app versus directly from the restaurant.
“I’m not saying people should boycott them, but a great idea would be to just take a minute, call the restaurant, and look at their website,” Stamper explained.
LeTaunia Mason, a driver for DoorDash, argued that the national delivery apps are still contributing to the local economy during these tough times.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs and this has become our bread and butter,” she said. “A lot of the apps don't even charge the restaurants right now. 100% of my household income comes from risking my health to provide to people who can't leave the house, essential hospital workers who can't leave their job, and from people who simply are staying home.”
Mason switched to DoorDash full-time after her warehouse job wanted to cut her pay by $4 an hour.
Mason’s wife, Monica, also drives full-time for DoorDash.
“We do care about the small businesses, but we are thinking about our families, too,” she explained. “We have three kids and two grandkids and we just have to survive throughout this whole situation.”
Some of the apps have removed delivery fees for customers who order from local businesses and offered certain promotions.
Both DoorDash and Uber Eats said they’ve reduced commissions or fees charged to the smaller-sized restaurants in the country.
“We support efforts to help the hospitality industry, which is why we’ve focused the majority of our efforts on driving demand to independent local restaurants, which we know is a key concern of our partners during these unprecedented times,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement.
DoorDash said in a press release they are offering zero commission fees for 30 days for independent restaurants who sign up for the first time and zero commission fees for existing partners on pickup orders.
However, both services admit that the commission reductions are only temporary.
“Regulating the commissions that fund our marketplace—particularly during these unprecedented times—would force us to radically alter the way we do business, set a far-reaching precedent in a highly competitive market, and could ultimately hurt those that we’re trying to help the most: customers, small businesses and delivery people,” according to an Uber spokesperson.
A request to Grubhub for comment was not returned.
Reuters reported that Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats were sued in federal court on Monday. Three consumers claimed the companies charged “exorbitant” fees while requiring restaurants charge higher prices.
The companies declined to comment on the lawsuit, according to Reuters.
EAT Restaurant Partners, which uses DoorDash for some of its food distribution, does not qualify for the commission reduction since eligible restaurants are those that have five or fewer locations.
Chris Tsui, founder and president of EAT, said he’s losing money everyday during the pandemic.
EAT’s 11 restaurant concepts, which includes Fat Dragon and Foo Dog, have transitioned to a contactless curbside pick-up system.
EAT’S Director of Hospitality and Marketing Chris Staples argued it’s safer than going inside a grocery store.
“We want to push pickup and curbside to-go food. The delivery is there for the safety of the guest, but we have made curbside pickup at all the locations safer,” Staples explained.
They have contracted their delivery through the Richmond-based delivery service Chop Chop RVA.
Chris Chandler, owner of Chop Chop RVA, has hired numerous laid-off EAT employees as delivery drivers for his company.
New York Deli in Carytown also chose to use Chandler’s app over the national delivery services.
“He is more local and not as big as those guys and doesn’t charge as much,” deli owners Charlene and Demetrios Tsiptsis said. “For the restaurant when we are already hurting so badly [the national services] are not worth it. You basically break even when you want to include utilities.”
They estimated the deli has racked up more than $20,000 in sales and meals taxes since the pandemic began.
“I don’t know how we will ever catch up if that’s not forgiven,” Charlene said.
They have started #deliroots and began selling meats, cheeses, and bread by the pound to entice customers to travel to their store for curbside pickup.
However, the apps do offer an additional way to get food into the homes of families that wouldn’t eat out otherwise.
They also entice customers to travel and experience the dining room of a restaurant they’ve only previously had delivered. However, that will have to wait until the pandemic is over.
During a time of uncertainty, the local community is stepping up to support their neighborhood businesses.
“The people of Richmond have been great,” Stamper recalled. “The tip percentages are much higher I think they would be on delivery and they seem grateful.”
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