Food delivery is nothing new. From Queen Margherita demanding her namesake pizza be brought to her on a visit to Naples, to the legendary milkman of 19th century America, the world over has been “ordering in” for centuries.
2020, though, changed the story. Only a few years into their mass popularity, third-party delivery apps exploded as we all were forced to stay home, and local restaurants began shutting their doors. We could demand almost anything we wanted without even getting up from the couch. But as it always does, convenience comes with a price. And it goes beyond just those pesky service fees.
As many restaurants over the past year came to rely on national and multinational companies such as Skip the Dishes, DoorDash and Uber, some also saw their bottom line shrink. Commissions charged by these companies can be 30% or more, meaning that some small restaurants are forced to operate on a slim-to-none profit margin. A recent 15% cap on commission fees during the pandemic issued by the BC government might help, but Skip the Dishes for example, has literally passed the buck to the consumers by including a 99-cent “BC fee” to all orders, which is obviously making no one happy but them.
One solution may come from — where else? — a restaurant owner. Brandon Grossutti of PiDGiN in Vancouver has recently launched a new platform, FromTo, that does everything the others do, but rather than take a commission, charges a flat $6.50 on every order to pay its current 350 drivers. But it’s a slow growth for an independent start-up — PiDGiN’s normally busy dining room has been transformed into a command centre, with its workers, not IT professionals, running the website. Forty-four restaurants are currently signed up to FromTo with more than 250 waiting to join, and so far service is limited to Vancouver.
“I wish we could be bigger, faster,” Grosutti recently told CTV News. “Sitting there and looking at our backlog, I know a lot of these restaurants and their families personally, and it’s like I can’t do it fast enough… If we had some money and some muscle behind this I think we could dominate this city and basically kick out multinationals.”
Clearly, the economics of making it all work for everybody are tricky, and given time to work it out, it could be harmonious for all, but with pandemic-level pressure felt everywhere, some lines are snapping.
Many restaurants have abandoned apps entirely and are switching to their own delivery, utilizing existing staff who have lost work, especially now in the current ban on indoor dining. It’s worth a call to your favourite local spot to see what they offer. Or, if you can, take-out is always available at mostly any restaurant that’s still open. Not as convenient, for sure, but you can be sure that those that are preparing your meal get to keep all of `your money, and maybe get to keep the lights on until we’re through this.
Skip the middleman instead.