Food Delivery Apps Are Not Saving Athens Restaurants

Food delivery apps pay more to publicize their charity work than their actual charity work, and these companies don’t care if local restaurants live or die because they’ve never even spoken to the owners, or been to Athens.

On a short stint driving for Postmates in February 2020, I accepted an order at Grindhouse Killer Burgers. I arrived at the store in Five Points, only to find out they had been desperately trying to get Postmates to leave them alone. They begrudgingly fulfilled the order, but I never accepted a Grindhouse delivery again.

Postmates has persisted using their own, incorrect, version of Grindhouse’s menu without their permission, owner and founder of Grindhouse Alex Brounstein said. Food delivery platforms, including Postmates and DoorDash, use this and other tactics to pressure restaurants into entering an exclusive deal with their service.

“If you’re delivering through all of them, you’re not gonna get a good deal,” Brounstein said.

Just as soon as food delivery apps like Postmates found their way onto everyone’s phones, they sought out ways to undercut their partners at every turn. And despite what the Super Bowl commercials say, food delivery apps are not going to save our local restaurants.

As a Postmates driver, I never spoke to anyone from my “employer,” ever. I might as well have not existed. This increase in demand of contracted food delivery makes the “new normal” feel even more cold and sterile.

These big-name services are a double-edged sword. Serving national chains and local favorites alike, delivery apps provide a logical solution to the risk of eating indoors, one of the easiest ways to get the coronavirus in public. Since they are so accessible, if a restaurant partners with one, it's essentially free marketing on high-traffic apps.

Then there’s that other edge. Uber Eats, which acquired Postmates in 2020, asks for about 30% of each order’s revenue, with Grubhub and DoorDash also asking for around 25-28% most of the time. This can make or break a small restaurant’s profit margins, the average of which were in the single digits, and that’s by pre-pandemic standards.

One Athens restaurant manager I spoke to told me that they’re basically all competing to rip him off.

You might have noticed I called Postmates my “employer.” None of the major delivery services call their drivers employees, despite the work they do in exchange for money. Contracting drivers instead is a purposeful tactic to avoid paying an hourly wage, insurance or COVID-19 hazard pay. They prefer to pay deliverers based on a needlessly complicated algorithm factoring in their efficiency and miles driven.

The biggest winners in all of this nonsense are nowhere to be found. They’re not the restaurants, who largely view it as a necessary evil. They’re certainly not the drivers, who get their tips stolen and have no chance at benefits, but who continue to deliver since it's their only way to pay their bills in a historic economic disaster.

The winners would be the apps, but they aren’t even profiting — they’re losing hundreds of millions annually. Despite a clear lack of cash, Uber Eats decided to buy Postmates to reduce the competition, and DoorDash went public with a huge IPO, correctly expecting investor intrigue to raise funds.

To me, this may be the biggest insult. How do you steal money from your gig workers whom you refuse to treat like employees, cut into struggling businesses’ margins across the country and then have the audacity to report nine figures in losses?

I want Athens to stay safe and for COVID-19 cases to keep their downward slope so that indoor dining roars back. But when this is all said and done, I hope the restaurants that braved hell to serve people food and keep this community unique in unprecedented circumstances stop getting the life sucked out of them by apps. They are soulless companies who pay more to publicize their charity work than their actual charity work, and who don’t care if these businesses live or die because they’ve never even spoken to the owners, or been to Athens.

Next time you support an Athens restaurant, consider ordering takeout.