Grubhub's predatory practices against small restaurants
July 1, 2019 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Grubhub is using thousands of fake websites - up to 23,000 domains are allegedly used - to upcharge commission fees from real businesses. This includes listing phone numbers that don’t belong to the actual business, and using logos and food photos without permissions. Example: restaurant's real site vs. Grubhub's fake site.
posted by Foci for Analysis (92 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lovely. They could have got away with it too if it weren't for those meddling kids the fact that most real restaurants have websites that look like they were designed in the early aughts, even when the restaurant is a new one.
posted by Caduceus at 6:02 AM on July 1, 2019 [33 favorites]


Oh cool, just when I was hoping for a restaurant-oriented website that could be shittier than Yelp.
posted by at by at 6:07 AM on July 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


Something something DISRUPTION! somethingsomething SHAREHOLDER VALUE! somethingsomething NIMBLE! somethingsomething PARADIGMSHIFT!

Barf.

This seems to be the source article?
posted by carter at 6:15 AM on July 1, 2019 [18 favorites]


Why do all "sharing economy"/"gig economy" companies (GrubHub, Uber, Lyft, AirBNB, etc.) seem like total parasites? Each look or ways to suck value out of existing businesses and communities without regard for the standards or regulations in place.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:26 AM on July 1, 2019 [60 favorites]


Capitalism.
posted by carter at 6:31 AM on July 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


That’s it. That’s the business model.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:31 AM on July 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


What the ever-loving fuck. Well, we've been meaning to cook more and order in less, here is a giant shining beacon of a reason.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:33 AM on July 1, 2019


Ah, but it's in the terms of service! Didn't you read all 76 pages of them? You signed them freely! Freedom! FREEEEDOM!
posted by lalochezia at 6:34 AM on July 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


If only the real restaurants could somehow acquire the better-design fake sites …
posted by scruss at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


What the ever-loving fuck. Well, we've been meaning to cook more and order in less, here is a giant shining beacon of a reason.

That doesn't help the restaurant either.
posted by M-x shell at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Food delivery middlemen platforms like grubhub cut deeply into restaurant margins and employ bullying/fraud tactics like these in return for very little added convenience, imo.

I just pick up the phone and call the place.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 6:41 AM on July 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


What the ever-loving fuck. Well, we've been meaning to cook more and order in less, here is a giant shining beacon of a reason.


ordering by calling the restaurant and picking it up yourself? and paying cash ? seems like restaurants really like that method.
posted by metafus at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


MrGuilt: The infrastructure underpinning the means of production has shifted from physical factories and products, to cloud platforms, data centers, apps, etc. But it's basically the same thing in the end. Capitalists own infrastructure that they then use to generate profit. It used to be bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, now it's digital infrastructure.

As with all systems this can be abused. For some reason platforms seem to be a particular focus for this abuse, I'm not sure precisely why, but maybe because they are new, and/or most people don't understand them, and/or they are creating new forms of social/work relationships that are not yet regulated.

But anyway the idea put about by silicon valley types, that gig economy etc. platforms are somehow a democratization of labor or something like that, is bogus flim-flam that often masks underlying further concentration of capital and inequality. IMHO, etc.
posted by carter at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


A motivated restaurant could catfish Grubhub into a monumental copyright fuckup, and then sue them into smoking oblivion. You'd need a lawyer who knew how to do it, though.
posted by spacewrench at 6:49 AM on July 1, 2019 [19 favorites]


I'm curious about their supposed "explanation" :
Grubhub has never cybersquatted, which is identified by ICANN as 'generally bad faith registration of another person’s trademark in a domain name,'" the company said in a statement. "As a service to our restaurants, we have created microsites for them as another source of orders and to increase their online brand presence. Additionally, we have registered domains on their behalf, consistent with our restaurant contracts. We no longer provide that service and it has always been our practice to transfer the domain to the restaurant as soon as they request it.
Is there any reason to suspect that this may be...true? That by registering a ton of 'microsites', they were trying to game out SEO stuff for the restaurants?
posted by lazaruslong at 6:49 AM on July 1, 2019


Platforms, marketplaces and sort algorithms are the 3 things tech companies do that need to be regulated as a utility.

so anyway I guess this is just how it is now cause hahahahahahahaha government. Regulating. In an oligarchy-lite...
posted by nikaspark at 6:53 AM on July 1, 2019


Is there any reason to suspect that this may be...true?
That might be believable and more easily taken on good faith, if it weren't for the vastly higher commission rates on the fake websites.
posted by xedrik at 6:54 AM on July 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


Is there any reason to suspect that this may be...true? That by registering a ton of 'microsites', they were trying to game out SEO stuff for the restaurants?

When does a company spend money out of altruism?
posted by winna at 6:59 AM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Capitalism.

What I want is to have restaurants competing for my business based on quality and price. Which would be, umm, capitalism.

I do want the government to step in to prevent misleading advertising so that competition can be fair. (And yes, with labor laws, environmental regulations, etc. - which doesn't make it any less capitalistic.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:02 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


God I hate the 21st century.
posted by saysthis at 7:03 AM on July 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


When does a company spend money out of altruism?

Well, theoretically it would be for mutual benefit. I could see them offering microsites for places that straight-up don't have a website, or had one that was effectively abandoned. But it doesn't pass the sniff test if someone's got a website already and it's updated recently.
posted by explosion at 7:04 AM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


In some of the major cities, the food delivery platforms have gone a step further than this and started to set up their own kitchens. They're on industrial estates and you can't go down and visit them - they just make food specifically to be delivered.

I have a friend who owns a popular high-end pizza place. Internet orders have been a problem for the kitchen to keep up (plus the drivers steal all the good parking), so he's eyeballing low-rent industrial space for his delivery kitchen.

He hates grubhub, tho - says the contract was "orwellian". He got much better terms from Bite Squad - although, he's thinking to roll his own app and recoup the delivery money.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:05 AM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]



When does a company spend money out of altruism?

Well, theoretically it would be for mutual benefit. I could see them offering microsites for places that straight-up don't have a website, or had one that was effectively abandoned. But it doesn't pass the sniff test if someone's got a website already and it's updated recently.


The point is that the microsite charges more commission than them using grubhub. It's literal theft.

posted by lalochezia at 7:09 AM on July 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


What I want is to have restaurants competing for my business based on quality and price. Which would be, umm, capitalism.

Right, and I don't think our comments are contradictory. And I support local eateries in person, partly because I want them to continue to survive. But it's important to note that GrubHub is not a restaurant business. It doesn't own any restaurants. It's a platform that acts as 'middle' information broker between vendors and buyers. It could theoretically connect anybody, but here it's hungry people and takeouts. The charge here is that they are abusing this broker/gateway position.

Should this be regulated? I think so. But how? Platforms in general operate in a digital space that is poorly understood by most people, and when we do try and think of them, it's often in terms of outdated physical analogies.
posted by carter at 7:15 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd really like to encourage people who read that Verge article to follow their link to The New Food Economy story that has the actual original reporting on this and imo does a much better job of explaining what's going on.
posted by theory at 7:15 AM on July 1, 2019 [17 favorites]


> ...he's thinking to roll his own app and recoup the delivery money.

That's a noble sentiment but... is he really aware of what that entails?
posted by at by at 7:16 AM on July 1, 2019


What Google is doing with Google Flights is not literal theft, I don't expect. But as Google brings in more and more functions to Google, it is naturally making it easier for users to book flights via Google than, say, Expedia or an individual airline. I suppose that is the opposite of what Grubhub is doing, which is creating a zillion faux websites for restaurants to compete with the actual restaurants in order to make more money. In theory all these Internet companies were going to save users money by eliminating middle layers. A bunch of times it seems like they are simply slicing the bread more and more thinly to add more and more layers, each taking a cut.

Kids, lawns, capitalism, grump, etc.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:17 AM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


He got much better terms from Bite Squad

A friend of mine decided to do some delivery app driving to stay afloat during his current period of unemployment. Bitesqaud was way better than the others in how they treated their drivers (i.e. like actual employees with an hourly wage even when they weren't on deliveries, etc). I'm sure they are doing something dastardly that I don't know of, but it seems like the marginally more ethical of the apps.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 7:26 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I mostly use Grubhub as a list of restaurants near me, with the online ordering being a slight additional convenience. I'm officially done with it as of today, though.
posted by codacorolla at 7:30 AM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


[making your own app] is a noble sentiment but... is he really aware of what that entails?

Well, that's the thing, right? Nobody wants to install 200 restaurant apps on their phone. So, there's pressure to consolidate.

But, then, there's the rent seeking bullshit by those vendors restaurants could contract with. See also - brochures in nearby hotels.

It goes round and round. Anyone remember when the phone company would charge an arm and a leg for a tiny tiny ad in the yellow pages?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:31 AM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


I own a couple of bars that also serve food. In one of them, we change the menu a lot, trying different things to see if anything sticks. It never does...it's set up as a bar but I have to at least have the ability to sell food for the license, so I have to have a working kitchen with a cook in there, but it's a bar and the profit margins are better on booze, so I have no interest in changing over. But it wouldn't hurt to sell 50 plates a night rather than 5. So anyway, we briefly had an "asian street food" menu going. At that time, Justeat had an offer to sign up for free, so nothing ventured...but after about 6 months, we had sold maybe one order a week with Justeat and we were changing the menu, so we just cancelled it.
For our online presence we mostly use facebook, we don't have our own website. So after reading the article, I had a poke around, and lo and behold....The Lime House....
Maybe they asked permission in some EULA I clicked through? I know that that red logo at the top was designed by my partner and not by Justeat. It's advertising food we no longer serve. Two of the social media links are dead, and the other two don't relate to any account managed by me. If you click on the "Pide Ahora" (order now) button, you get a Page Not Found error.
I'm sure it's all been checked over by their lawyers and there's probably nothing I can do, but it stinks to high heaven.
And Justeat doesn't even do the deliveries..they subcontract it out and I had to pay that separately to Justeat's charges!
posted by conifer at 7:37 AM on July 1, 2019 [49 favorites]


That example seems to be a site set up by Slice, not Grubhub.
posted by thejoshu at 7:51 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


GrubHub is also Eat24 and has a very close relationship with Yelp. Speaking of companies that have hostile relationships to businesses.

The nice thing about GrubHub as a consumer is it's the closest thing we have to a one-stop-shop for food ordering. At least in San Francisco almost every delivery option in the city is available via GrubHub. I still try to go to the restaurant's real website and use whatever weirdo off-brand online ordering system they have, because I know their margins are thin, but it's hard to beat GrubHub for consumer convenience.

I often run into fake websites when looking for a restaurant's site. Perhaps they are GrubHub traps. Deceptive marketing is sleazy shit.
posted by Nelson at 8:11 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Why do all "sharing economy"/"gig economy" companies (GrubHub, Uber, Lyft, AirBNB, etc.) seem like total parasites?

Because they are. Postmates entire profit model is effectively boiled down to tip and wage theft from both their delivery employees and the restaurant workers. I think it may have changed now but there was effectively no way for delivery workers to tip out the actual workers making their food outside of simply tipping them out of pocket... which, yeah, no Postmates riders don't have that kind of cash flow.

You know how you tip at a US restaurant because it's common practice? For years Postmates didn't even have this option in their platform or even talk about it in training. If you ever ordered a meal from some place you know through Postmates and it was delivered cold or with far less than the quality you were used to when actually visiting the location yourself there's a reason why. It's because the restaurant and their employees HATED Postmates and they pushed your order to the bottom of the stack and stopped caring about it.

Because not only did Postmates riders not tip out, all Postmates orders are effectively rush orders. More than once I heard/watch kitchen managers or other staffs instruct cooking staff to push those orders aside even as I was standing right there waiting for it and placed the order 20+ minutes ago.

I'm still waiting for my check for the class action settlement against Postmates. Taking on that job in desperation was one major part of how I ended up evicted from my apartment almost five years ago.

That check might have been a whole couple of dollars. I'm assuming it has evaporated at this point. They based the settlement check on total miles, not delivery count or hours on shift, so workers in small, dense cities like Seattle got royally screwed.

Yeah, of course my mileage count was low. I was on a bike in a dense, hilly city that's barely a mile or two square for the downtown metro area. Ten miles of actual riding might be two dozen deliveries.

When I started, at the time they were advertising that people were averaging 15+ an hour and up to 25 an hour. After working for a couple of weeks it became really clear this wasn't actually possible even if people tipped an average of 15% on a bill or more - which never happened. People almost never tipped because why should they tip in addition to the high delivery fees, and Postmates knew this and even buried/hid the tip part of the screen used to sign for deliveries.

You would also have to be always working and stacking orders 2-3 deep in a continuous chain of order management and deliveries, something that the platform itself didn't support or even consider to try to support and deal with, because the platform itself was gamed and tilted against the delivery riders/drivers specifically to keep the ratio of orders to workers artificially skewed so that there were always more workers than orders, and delivery workers were competing against each other directly instead of co-operating or having any sort of sane order dispatch.

It was almost impossible to link or stack runs in Postmates with any geographical sanity or timeliness, even when you were on priority duty and supposed to have first pick of the orders.

This is the opposite of the way sane courier services handle dispatch. Human dispatch is geographically aware of where you are and what you're doing, and one way traditional bike couriers made decent money was dispatch routing them from job to job in a sane, logical way that made geographic sense.

This would be relatively trivial to do in a highly automated system like Postmates but instead they actively designed the platform to be adversarial and competitive because it was better for their own profits and downward pressure on wage costs.

That shit was and is a full blown living libertarian nightmare straight out of Black Mirror or Snow Crash.

Please don't use Postmates.


Also, something to consider: You might be a conscientious consumer find yourself asking your delivery workers if they like their job or if they're treated well. This is fine and good, but you might not get a straight, honest answer during the delivery and sign off process.

It is assumed by the worker that the platform apps they're using are monitoring or recording the handoff and transaction via the app on their phone, and I have heard reliable rumors that this is a thing that Postmates management can call up when there's a customer complaint about a delivery or in cases of fraud.

The terms of services are certainly broad enough to include it.

It would actually make perfect sense to grab a few seconds of audio or video, or at least capture an image of the person signing off on the delivery for fraud detection and prevention. The app and platform already had the ability to manage photos and direct phone calls or texts with a customer to manage questions about orders or replacements.

I didn't get too deep into debugging this but I do know the Postmates issued phone and phone platform app/suite had a very intense piece of enterprise grade MDM (mobile device management) software installed which is the exact sort of thing used when you want full access to a worker's phone, including the ability to remotely record audio, video and photos. They also got really mad when I covered up my cameras with tape, so I only uncovered the rear camera when taking photos of receipts as required.

The chances are very good that every app-based delivery interaction you've had has had some kind of ambient surveillance going on during the signing and handoff.
posted by loquacious at 8:31 AM on July 1, 2019 [73 favorites]


I just pick up the phone and call the place.

Do you know then that you're getting the real website and not the fake with a different phone number that goes to Grubhub?
This is a genuine question, not snark — even after going to the original article (which I agree is way better), I'm having some trouble understanding exactly how this works.
posted by FencingGal at 8:47 AM on July 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


The chances are very good that every app-based delivery interaction you've had has had some kind of ambient surveillance going on during the signing and handoff.

holy shit.
posted by nikaspark at 8:50 AM on July 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


I still try to go to the restaurant's real website and use whatever weirdo off-brand online ordering system they have

Unfortunately, this doesn't always work. We ordered Friday from the desi pizza place near us, and they used to have some non-branded system, and now they've joined up with some new system and our pizza order took an hour and a half and two calls to get to us, with two hungry kids waiting. And I've been trying to use Pizza My Heart's house system, and it periodically either breaks or I discover they don't know the order exists.

In theory, a middleman system doesn't have to be parasitic; coding web order sites isn't a restaurant's core competency and keeping them running is a skill in itself. But the one truth of nearly everything Silicon Valley touches is that they don't want *some* of the money, they want *all* of the money.

So I gave up DoorDash (except when I'm desperate and then I tip them in cash), I've never used UberEats or Postmates because I knew how terrible they were, anyone have a San Jose/Penninsula substitute that is less terrible? I see a new site called EatStreet, anyone know about them?
posted by tavella at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


My friend owns a restaurant and told me that OpenTable apprently does a similar thing where the put up a page for restaurants that don't user OpenTable that says "no reservations available." Since OpenTable is the first result that comes up when you google "Restaurant X reservations," it ends up looking like you're just all booked up if you don't book through OpenTable.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:58 AM on July 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


I think using terms like "predatory practices" to mean "bad business deal" is not useful.

Grubhub offered restaurants a deal: "we will make a website for you, and if it results in orders for you, we'll take a cut of that marginal order." This is roughly similar to any other web design company - who all charge money in exchange for the web design company's services. The restaurants are able to decline the deal. The restaurants are able to make a better website than Grubhub so that the Grubhub website has less traffic. The restaurants are not even charged if the Grubhub-built website has negative return for Grubhub. Essentially, it's a no-risk deal for the restaurants - worst case, it costs the restaurant nothing (and Grubhub absorbs all the cost), best case, the restaurant get additional orders (at a lower profit margin). On the off chance that the restaurant doesn't have sufficient margin to accommodate the additional commission, the restaurant is even able to increase their prices to compensate.

It's hard for me to fault Grubhub for offering such a deal. Businesses need to be cognizant of agreements they sign. If the businesses aren't paying attention to what they sign, I can't fault Grubhub.
posted by saeculorum at 9:01 AM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Echoing the plans in this thread for an industrial-scale food prep operation, that's been my go-to response when someone asks where I think the GrubHub/Uber Eats/Seamless apps are all going.

I could easily see one of these companies trying a vertical integration move where they partly or fully own an industrial kitchen, perhaps with gig-economy cooks as well.

Here's why:
- No pesky labor laws or $15 minimum wage laws to worry about when the cooks are independent contractors (however maybe there are different regulations for food prep staff vs. drivers, I don't know)
- Since the food is delivery-only, the kitchen can be placed in cheaper industrial areas that are just close enough to reach the delivery area. No signage or tables needed.
- They can sell all sorts of food from this one megakitchen, from avocado toast to falafel and pizza. And they can use all their Big Data from years of operating to figure out what to cook, at what price, at what time.

Uber Eats will start an Uber Chef brand or something similar and undercut restaurants on price (and/or throw VC money to customers via deep discounts). Sort of like Amazon Basics and all the other ways Amazon vertically integrated.
posted by hexaflexagon at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


I can't fault Grubhub.

I guess from my view I'm kind of astounded that someone at Grubhub decided that this was how they were gonna do it?

But I guess capitalism amirite? I shouldn't be surprised at all.
posted by nikaspark at 9:04 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd really like to encourage people who read that Verge article to follow their link to The New Food Economy story that has the actual original reporting on this and imo does a much better job of explaining what's going on.

Thank you! This article answered my questions about how the fake phone numbers work.

There's a kind of irony in an inferior second-generation version of this story getting more traction because it appeared on a more popular, more general-purpose website. Not that I equate The Verge with GrubHub and their ilk; it makes all the difference that they linked to their source. But the pressure toward consolidation is the same, and there's a spectrum of cultures that can sprout around that, from communitarian to exploitative.
posted by aws17576 at 9:06 AM on July 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


Since OpenTable is the first result that comes up when you google "Restaurant X reservations," it ends up looking like you're just all booked up if you don't book through OpenTable.

With this and GrubHub, it looks like time for more class action lawsuits. Here's a post, on Yelp, about a class action lawsuit alleging that Yelp's sales team demanded payment to hide negative reviews.


Sort of like Amazon Basics and all the other ways Amazon vertically integrated.

And every other grocery store chain has their cheaper house brand of just about everything. The difference between in-store generic brands and online shopping is that what you see online is wholly reliant on the online presence being built, "optimized" and maintained by the market. Of course there's grocery store display tricks, but you could make it significantly harder to find a brand's product, or a certain restaurant, if you maintained the online store or online ordering interface, and blame "algorithms" for the "display error."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


When I started, at the time they were advertising that people were averaging 15+ an hour and up to 25 an hour.

Oh, and I almost forgot this part - how much did I actually make?

I think my best day riding for Postmates I managed to break about $4 an hour in a 12 hour day. That's only because someone tipped me $20 on something like a $15 order of random snacks from a grocery store. I was getting something like $1-2 per delivery from Postmates in non-peak pricing hours. Bad days averaged less than $1 an hour due to all the unpaid waiting around for work.

Keep in mind these are not wages. This is before taxes, before wear and tear on my bike, before I tried to cost-average out the delivery gear I had to buy out of pocket, and long before any medical insurance or accidents or injuries from biking all over the city in heavy traffic like I had a death wish.

That barely covers the cost of the calories burned, which was not insignificant. I had to start eating like an ultramarathon runner or sumo wrestler to keep up, and it's not like I had a lot of room on my bike to pack a healthy lunch because I needed all the room and weight I could manage for deliveries.


I once had an utterly epic sub 10 minute order and delivery, and it ended up being pretty much my last run for Postmates.

It was just for a few bags of kale chips from Whole Foods, and it was going to South Lake Union, just on the edge of Lower Queen Anne. I accepted the order in Cal Anderson park in Seattle at 9:55 PM. The Whole Foods on Westlake in South Lake Union closes at 10 PM.

If you know the geography of the streets of Seattle, you'll have an idea of what this entails. You couldn't make it from Cal Anderson to Westlake Whole Foods in 5 minutes even if you had a fully charged Tesla Roadster and a police escort and had permission to park right on the lobby of Whole Foods.

I bombed that hill at speeds averaging something like 40 MPH. On a bicycle. I ran or rolled through a dozen stop signs, and came at Whole Foods the back way through Olive St and some of the alleys instead of traversing over to Denny, even going the wrong way down one of the one way side streets, avoiding signaled intersections the whole way. I was bunnyhopping curbs at speeds that would have turned my rims into metal confetti if I didn't clear them smoothly.

I was wired and in the zone doing the thing, role-playing my own little cyberpunk science non-fiction dystopia and all.

I made it to Whole Foods right on the edge of 10:00 PM just as they were closing the doors. I managed to talk my way in at a run and explaining that I knew exactly what I needed to get and would be gone in 60 seconds or less. And at the time, Postmates was still new enough that telling them I was riding for them elicited an "Oh, cool! You will be fast!" response instead of a "Fuck you!" response.

So I ran all the way to the back of the store, grabbed the armful of kale chips and was back on my bike by 10:01 and some change.

I blasted out of there and was on the customer's doorstep by 10:04 or 10:05. I'm hoping for a fat tip, what, considering I managed to do this insane piece of last minute shopping for someone. But I'm also shaking from the adrenaline of this run and now asking myself if this is all worth it.

It takes the customer another 8-10 minutes to actually come out and sign for their order. "Wow, that was really fast," they say. "Yep, I knew Whole Foods was going to close, so I had to hustle." I say, sincerely proud of the run and how fast it was and that I even managed to talk my way into Whole Foods just as it closed.

Tip? No tip. Not even a dollar.

Damn it all to hell, the whole thing was just one of the "free delivery" promotions that Postmates liked to run, and new customers never tipped on those runs because that defeats the purpose of "free delivery". So I did that whole Death Star Trench Run and risked life and limb for... someone who just wanted some kale chips delivered for free. They probably didn't even need the kale chips that exact moment in time, it was probably just something they knew they'd eventually eat.

I remember walking back to my bike and stopping a few feet away and just staring at it, realizing I kind of actually hated my bike right now. And realizing I didn't really like hating my bike or bicycles in general. And I just started crying in frustration I signed out of the app and walked my bike home wondering a whole lot about how the world had become so shitty and so economically segregated and divided.

FUUUUCK POSTMATES. DO NOT USE THEM. NUKE THEM FROM ORBIT.
posted by loquacious at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2019 [87 favorites]


Saeculorum, the problem is that Grubhub, or whichever one of these companies, isn't just creating new orders with their fake websites...they may be siphoning off orders from the restaurants own websites. In which case, the restaurant is making less money that they would have because they are paying the percentages to Grubhub that they wouldn't otherwise have to if Grubhub had not created that website.
And as far as I know, at least in my case, no offer was made....it was hidden somewhere in a EULA or has just been done without any permission whatsoever, and never mentioned. You say:
worst case, it costs the restaurant nothing
That's not true. Worst case is that Grubhub inserts itself into a relationship between the customer and the restaurant where it wasn't previously involved, and siphons money away from the restaurant.
posted by conifer at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2019 [22 favorites]


they may be siphoning off orders from the restaurants own websites.

Then don't sign the agreement. When you are a business, you are presented with all sorts of crappy deals all the time. You just... don't sign them.

And as far as I know, at least in my case, no offer was made....it was hidden somewhere in a EULA

Read EULAs. They literally say exactly what each party is allowed to do.

or has just been done without any permission whatsoever, and never mentioned.

If Github was stupid enough to make a website with trademarked names (restaurant names) and copyrighted content (menu content) without permission, then that's not predatory practices - that's copyright infringement and trademark violations (and possibly fraud).
posted by saeculorum at 9:22 AM on July 1, 2019


Delete if this is a derail but I bet the number of people who read through every EULA, in business or not, is exactly 0, and if permission was hidden in an EULA, that's exactly what they're depending on. Also, the result of any class action being many years and lawyers down the road.
posted by conifer at 9:26 AM on July 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


not reading EULAs isn't really an excusable practice when you're running a business.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


I mean, not like I always do, but I know it's on me if I get fucked over.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:35 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


saeculorum, you're writing as if the restaurants knowingly entered into a willing contract with GrubHub to run these fake websites with fake phone numbers. The article we're discussing says otherwise; "an alternative website with a similar-sounding URL (.com versus .net) set up by Grubhub without their expressed permission".

GrubHub's statement added later is very ambiguously worded and I can't tell from that whether GrubHub is even claiming they have the restaurant's contractual permission in all cases. GrubHub says "As a service to our restaurants, we have created microsites for them"; that does not say whether the restaurants requested that service. An alternate reading is it's a service the way extortion gangs in San Francisco used to provide the service of selling "lucky houseplants" to businesses for Lunar New Year.
posted by Nelson at 9:36 AM on July 1, 2019 [21 favorites]


I just pick up the phone and call the place.

My experiences with that, especially with a restaurant staffed by non-native English speakers or an order with any complexity, is that the order takes forever to put in and is incorrect. Surely there's some middle ground between ordering as if we're calling from 1970 and a predatory cyber-big brother taking ownership of the restaurant owner's first-born?

ordering by calling the restaurant and picking it up yourself?

Similarly, it would be nice to have some kind of delivery option that's not bad pizza, good but tremendously slow pizza, bad chinese, or overpriced deli sandwiches. On the days when I'm inclined to get delivery and can't stomach those options, if it came to having to go drive somewhere to pick it up I'd just eat a peanut butter sandwich or Tasty Bite instead. I use the gig economy food delivery services rarely (under a handful of times a year) and tip cash, but sometimes it's nice to have a nice curry or something at home when you're exhausted.
posted by Candleman at 9:40 AM on July 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


GrubHub's statement added later is very ambiguously worded and I can't tell from that whether GrubHub is even claiming they have the restaurant's contractual permission in all cases.

That gets back to my point that "predatory practices" is a poor choice of words here. if this was truly without the restaurant's permission, then Github is committing trademark/copyright infringement. There's a specific term for that. We should not use ambiguous terms when there are specific legal violations that are being alleged. Whenever I see ambiguous terms like "predatory practices", I think "not nice thing to do, but completely legal" due to what I perceive to be overly broad usage of the term.

Also, Github would have had some relationship with these companies - they were charging the companies commission. As I understand, Github doesn't take orders for restaurants that don't enter a (contractual) partnership with Github.
posted by saeculorum at 9:41 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I use the gig economy food delivery services rarely (under a handful of times a year) and tip cash, but sometimes it's nice to have a nice curry or something at home when you're exhausted.

This is the rub with basically everything. Streaming TV, ride shares, food delivery, health care, infrastructure. Nobody gets demonically, insanely, blindingly rich when regular folks Have a Nice Thing. And the only acceptable way to be is demonically, insanely, blindingly rich. So nobody else can ever have a nice thing.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:55 AM on July 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


Why are we arguing semantics again?

Oh wait.

... Github [sic] ... Github [sic] ... Github [sic] ... Github [sic] ...

OK, found the reason.

Look, you can argue all you want that what they're doing may be legal, and I'm gonna be over here arguing that regardless it is shitty and predatory for a company to build a business model around "we know these other small business often won't understand how badly we're going to fuck them with this lopsided deal".
posted by tocts at 9:57 AM on July 1, 2019 [45 favorites]


That gets back to my point that "predatory practices" is a poor choice of words here.

I think it is literally the perfect way to describe what they are doing. Things can be scummy and dishonest without being illegal. People can lack a sense of ethics whilst still abiding by the law.
posted by snofoam at 9:59 AM on July 1, 2019 [27 favorites]


This appears to be Grubhub's terms of service for restaurants. I looked through it, and here's some parts that stand out:
  • Section 5 is a standard arbitration requirement and class-action waiver. There won't be a class-action suit unless that section can be voided.
  • Section 1.a is the most important thing here. It says that Grubhub "will enable customers to purchase food and beverages from Restaurant via ... grubhub.com and its associated web-based and mobile properties and apps (the 'GH Platform') ... [and] at GH’s sole option, any other affiliated brand or platform..." I could find no mention of Grubhub registering domains and creating websites that impersonate the website, but the terms here are more than broad enough to allow it ("any other affiliated brand or platform").
  • 1.e gives Grubhub a broad license to the restaurant's intellectual property, including trademarks and menus.
I'm not a lawyer, but my reading is that Grubhub is within their legal rights here, and also that reading the agreement wouldn't have warned restaurants that Grubhub would impersonate them as nothing here specifically indicates that practice. Restaurants technically agreed to this, but the most obvious reading of the platform clause is that it merely allows Grubhub to sell their food on their own branded platforms, making the impersonation practice a nasty but legal surprise.
posted by skymt at 10:02 AM on July 1, 2019 [19 favorites]


What I want is to have restaurants competing for my business based on quality and price. Which would be, umm, capitalism.

No, that would be an undistorted market economy. Not the same as capitalism. Not necessarily even related.

Market economies mean in theory that value determines price, and that both parties should gain from a trade.

Capitalism, on the other hand, means that the people who own stuff make the rules and get to extract payments from others just by virtue of owning stuff.
posted by Ickster at 10:06 AM on July 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


I thought it was interesting that the Amazon delivery food service closed permanently last week. For the number of food delivery services we have now, they don’t seem very lucrative.
posted by sallybrown at 10:07 AM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I thought it was interesting that the Amazon delivery food service closed permanently last week. For the number of food delivery services we have now, they don’t seem very lucrative.

Are any gig service companies actually lucrative? I know that Uber and Lyft both survive based on shitty practices and VC funding (with the ultimate goal of privatizing public transit in major metro areas). The goal of all of these vultures seems to be coasting on borrowed money and bad practices until they reach some "real" ultimate goal, e.g. the giant industrial kitchens mentioned above.
posted by codacorolla at 10:17 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've been listening to Farm to Taber (the creator has a bunch of experience in food safety consulting, some of which to silicon valley) and apparently the safety issues are massive and under-managed because the "disruption" style of business is not so good at things like, for example, making sure correct temperatures are prioritized.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:18 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Are any gig service companies actually lucrative? I know that Uber and Lyft both survive based on shitty practices and VC funding (with the ultimate goal of privatizing public transit in major metro areas). The goal of all of these vultures seems to be coasting on borrowed money and bad practices until they reach some "real" ultimate goal, e.g. the giant industrial kitchens mentioned above.

They may have some end goal in mind (industrial kitchens! fleets of driverless don't-call-them-taxis! you rent books not own them!), but only really thought it out inside their bubble. Can a world based on a gig economy, with workers being "independent contractors" be sustainable?

My fear that with ever iteration of automation, offshoring, and cost reduction, capitalism is eating its own tail. Eventually, there will be some super-efficient way to produce stuff, with very few humans involved (and those that are paid bargain-basement). Because of this, there won't be enough people to buy stuff that the businesses collapse.

The true engine of a market economy is the consumer; not the business.
posted by MrGuilt at 10:27 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


For the number of food delivery services we have now, they don’t seem very lucrative.

Way back when, when I was both young and very pretty, I worked delivery for a restaurant. Cellular Telephones were the new hotness then - and food delivery services using the new Cellular Telephones were the UberEats of the day.

Here's the thing - your favorite sit-down restaurant is competing against "Fucking Dominos" for price and ease to do delivery. Pizza travels well, it's fast, and it's dead simple. Same for chinese food or sandwiches.

Most restaurants are running on very thin margins, and the customers are pretty price sensitive. There's a line between "I don't want to cook" and "I don't want to pay" and if the service + food ends up on the IDWTP side, and it can be pretty fine. It doesn't matter what fancy dispatch tech you use - you can't make enough. Basically, the busy nights don't pay for the slow ones.

I used to love doing food delivery - drive around, listen to the radio, and everyone is always happy to see you. But between wear and tear, and paying the rent.... it wasn't super lucrative. And when I moved up to run the restaurant, I just couldn't see how an external service could make enough to justify it.

If the food is good enough to justify the cost (over pizza, etc.), the customer will go to the restaurant, because the experience is a big part of it. If I'm paying 100 dollars for dinner, I ain't doing dishes. Presentation matters! People pay (quite a lot, as it turns out) for it.

Delivery - not so much.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:34 AM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


holy shit.

Yep, this is something most consumers probably don't even think about. And they probably should. Not just in regards to worker rights but personal privacy and information security at home or work. The EULA even likely broadly covers and discloses this for most delivery services.

I want to expand on this because I've had some more thoughts about it, and a couple of these thoughts may be significant.

It is exceedingly likely today that a delivery company issued phone or app is monitoring every face to face transaction on some level, if only for fraud prevention and quality assurance. It would make less sense that they weren't doing this on some level.

So let's presume that this is true. Everything else about data mining has been awful, so why should this of all the things be any different when so many of these gig/delivery economy platforms are so publicly and openly awful? How awful are they being in the sausage factory?

So let's assume I'm not just being paranoid. I mean, I am, but people like me were right about stuff like Carnivore and NSA wiretapping, too. Maybe it's because we worry too much combined with a decent global perspective on what you can and can't do with technology and data.

It would be trivial to do and leaving all of that tasty, tasty data on the table just would not be logical in today's information driven business environment. The amount of data is actually in line with normal use since the app/platform is already throwing around a lot of high res photos of receipts and such. As these things go, this data harvesting might be a significantly valuable product segment of its own to a delivery company. (Hi there, Amazon!)

I regret not poking at the phone more when I had it and doing some data capture. Debugging would likely be useless as the MDM app itself and the delivery platform app are most likely (hopefully!) completely end-to-end encrypted, so even if I interecepted the data via a sniffer on a private WiFi network it'd just be big blocks of encrypted data. (Which itself could be useful, yes, just seeing how much data was being transmitted during a handoff or transaction.)

And even then I'd have to spoof an actual delivery while on a wifi network I controlled that had a packet sniffer running, and I'm not even sure if the platform would allow for a WiFi connection anyway. I would guess not. I definitely wouldn't allow it for exactly these reasons.

I did do a lot of homework about the MDM app being used, and as I recall it was the product of a major telco or infosec firm like Cisco or one of its subsidiaries, and it was exactly the sort of enterprise grade MDM solution used by major corporations to protect IT assets and infosec issues with company assigned phones and mobile devices. I'm pretty sure it *was* a Cisco product, which, yeah. Does anyone want to talk about Cisco being the new ITT yet?

It was the same exact kind of all-inclusive Swiss Army knife MDM solution that has caused a lot of legal trouble for public schools or even corporations where there was intentional, accidental, intrusive or otherwise undisclosed surveillance.

It was exactly the sort of MDM solution that essentially gives complete remote control over a mobile device and allows you to do basically anything you'd ever want or could to do to a phone, be it a remote wipe, data retrieval, data editing, changing a screen lock, installing apps in the background or remote monitoring of all the sensors be it GPS, compass, cameras or audio

Pair that MDM with the worker-side delivery platform app and client and a really liberal or actively invasive EULA and you've got one hell of a mobile surveillance device - and a whole indexed network of them as well.

This part should give you something to pause to think about.


Crap, and I just had a new thought about this: I wonder if this presumed or theoretical surveillance had a trigger for when delivery workers were hanging out together? They could, say, easily tell when we were all congregating waiting for runs and bitching about work. More than once I remember messages going out to tell people to spread out more or at least pointing out that we weren't in an active hot spot on the map.

How easy would it be to punish a worker for organizing labor or grousing in private by giving them shittier work or less work or no work at all? How could this be weaponized to deter unionization or worker solidarity above and beyond using game theory and metrics on the worker side of the platform?

Or perhaps they could use it to see if a worker was simultaneously riding for another delivery company, either through data mining or direct phone control to see what's installed? I'm pretty sure Uber and Lyft were already accused of doing this.


Wait, here's an even more terrifyingly paranoid cyberpunk dystopian thought: Do you work at a tech firm or start up? Do you have any trade secrets or sensitive information to protect? Or, perhaps, do you work in health care and have to deal with complying with HIPAA?

Do you receive any deliveries from these app-based services at work? Have you ever, say, signed off on a delivery near people working with sensitive data or in a place where you would otherwise be upset if someone, say, started taking a continuous stream of photographs or high definition video of the information on your screen, your whiteboards or paper printouts on your desk?

I bet you have signed for a delivery just like this, and I bet this is practically a daily thing that happens in many offices and workplaces. I remember one delivery where there were three other delivery workers handing off orders, because different people ordered via the platform independently roughly at the same time to the same location - lunch time.

And if these delivery apps and platforms are engaging in any kind of ambient surveillance like I'm proposing - this is a HUGE security hole and issue that might not even be considered by most people.

Sure, any business who knows what they're doing with infosec and penetration prevention is going to air gap the reception area and forbid any outside mobile devices or anything with an unauthorized camera.

But most startups I've seen don't have the floor space for that. You walk in some places and there are whiteboards and screens visible to anyone in the open plan office.

And most doctors' offices don't at all, usually there's just the front reception desk. Where it would be seen as non-threatening and routine to accept a delivery person's phone over the desk to sign for a delivery on an active app, bypassing any physical screens designed to keep printed or on-screen patient information private.


This goes beyond food delivery. Everything about this is a dystopian nightmare for labor rights and organization above and beyond the transaction itself.

And the more I think about it the more it seems like it's possibly an overlooked and gigantic information security hole that might not even be considered as possible by many people.


It bothers me that this isn't actually paranoid science fiction ranting any more, but keep in mind I was one of those nerds talking about broad scale telco monitoring and surveillance back in the 90s and 2000s and people thought we were just being paranoid then, too. Now everyone pretty much assumes that this is true.
posted by loquacious at 10:41 AM on July 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


Doordash is also terrible. They steal the tip money, they illegally used the logo of In N Out Burger who had to sue them to make it stop, and their poorly screened deliverers have been known to steal your stuff.
posted by w0mbat at 10:42 AM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


That example seems to be a site set up by Slice, not Grubhub.

True and I apologize for not checking this. Mods (pls just remove the " Example: restaurant's real site vs. Grubhub's fake site." part)?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:45 AM on July 1, 2019


> I could easily see one of these companies trying a vertical integration move where they partly or fully own an industrial kitchen, perhaps with gig-economy cooks as well.

Maybe? They currently stand to gain nothing by this except shouldering greater risk for absolutely no more profit. Grubhub currently faces effectively-zero risk of loss on any given restaurant (regardless of that restaurant's sales volume) and, once it sets up its own website against that restaurant, has a sliding scale for their percentage of any sale by that restaurant. In fact they can make all the money they could have by running their own industrial kitchen, with none of the expenses involved. When a restaurant is choked out of business there are plenty more to take its place because most urban areas are overserved by restaurants. Grubhub is absolutely indifferent to the existence of any restaurant, as long as the service area is sufficiently well-covered by Grubhub clients.

Food services of any kind are high-risk, low-margin operations. Grubhub's service is extremely low-risk, high-margin. Why would they want to change that?
posted by at by at 10:49 AM on July 1, 2019


[Sorry, we really can't edit a post substantively after several hours' worth of conversation. I think just noting the inaccuracy here is the best way forward. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:51 AM on July 1, 2019


Do you know then that you're getting the real website and not the fake with a different phone number that goes to Grubhub?

This is is actually a real non-Grubhub phenomenon - Dan Olson discovered delivery-only bootleg pizzerias that steal other more well known pizza chains branding and logos. That number you call on the flyer you get through your post box next time might not be going to where you think it is.
posted by PenDevil at 10:57 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


So I gave up DoorDash (except when I'm desperate and then I tip them in cash), I've never used UberEats or Postmates because I knew how terrible they were, anyone have a San Jose/Penninsula substitute that is less terrible? I see a new site called EatStreet, anyone know about them?

tavella, I use Caviar, they seem... less worse than other options. They automatically add a 15% tip to orders (I increase to at least 18%), and they were not involved in tip theft like DoorDash and Instacart. They have fewer restaurants because they've always billed themselves as being choosy, and where I live there is a fifteen dollar minimum order. Which ultimately prevents drivers from rushing around town for a single burrito, so that's fine with me.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:59 AM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I see a new site called EatStreet, anyone know about them?

I've been using EatStreet for a at least a year just because I had a lot of trouble with getting my credit card to work on GrubHub's site. Per Wikipedia, they were named one of the top places to work in Madison, Wisconsin (where they originated), in 2016 and that was supposedly based on employee surveys. I don't know how much that's really worth though. Since that's their headquarters, that might not say anything about conditions for drivers.

So is it generally better to just tip the driver in cash? I get that the company might be filming us - is it still OK though?
posted by FencingGal at 11:13 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I thought it was interesting that the Amazon delivery food service closed permanently last week. For the number of food delivery services we have now, they don’t seem very lucrative.

It isn't. As far as I know none of these gig economy platforms are yet profitable.

Here's the part people should get really mad about - the bigger picture of what is happening, and the really disruptive part where these companies are actually making/printing money.

It's not about the platform or product itself. It's not about the workers. It's not about the customer convenience. It isn't really even about "disruptive" algorithms or technology.

It isn't even actually about becoming a middleman and trying to glean a profit out of one of the lowest profit margin businesses out there - the restaurant business.

It's about the investment funding and potential for an IPO. That's the big ticket payoff these companies are working for and where the bulk of their operating funds come from.

In exchange for this multi-forked dystopian nightmare and shell game of consumer convenience, erosion of employment rights and hammering at restaurant and small business profits, these companies are playing a complicated game and experiment on our lives, cities and culture for what is really the sole purposes of investment funding and an IPO so they can cash out that golden ticket and leave that company to sink or swim - or go Godzilla on our culture and economy.

When you really untangle the finances most of these companies are actively subsidizing their wages and operating costs via rounds of investment funding - investors who also hope to earn their payout as a vested shareholder in an IPO, not when the company theoretically turns a profit. All they need is a shiny idea and brand to hitch that IPO on to, and they don't really care what it is as long as people buy the idea that it's going to be the best new thing since sliced bread.

The literal, actual nickles and dimes they're making off of all of this disruption is effectively a stipend to make them bleed off invested money a little slower than they would without it. Kind of like running a public transit system - it's not the fares themselves that pay all the bills, but they also can't just give it away for free to build that brand or pay a living wage because that would just pull the curtain back on the wizard on the levers and scare off anyone rational or sane from investing and torpedoing public confidence in their IPO. No, it has to be... plausible.

So not only are they making their workers and contracted assets (restaurants, private car hires, etc) bleed nickles and dimes and dollars in the scope of these experiments in the new economy, they're expecting to also fleece the public coming and going through their presumed and eventual IPO.

And some of that investment money not only comes from individual investors, it comes from the managed investment funds of schools, cities and other civic institutions that are the fabric of our civilized lives.

This is the real "disruptive technology" of a lot of these new economy gig platforms. Gaming this economic system to shift very large quantities of money around in ways that aren't always very clear or obvious.

And when that business fails to turn a profit or the stock price tanks? *shrug* Oh well. Sorry for your loss. Investing is risky, you know. Hey, have you heard about this new thing?
posted by loquacious at 11:27 AM on July 1, 2019 [17 favorites]


Kind of like running a public transit system - it's not the fares themselves that pay all the bills,...that would just pull the curtain back on the wizard on the levers and scare off anyone rational or sane from investing

You've been posting interesting experiences, but I'm kinda disappointed with the analogy you went with here. It's not only offensive, but also inaccurate, almost to the point of being a non-sequitur.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:05 PM on July 1, 2019


offensive

To wizards? I think the analogy was simply that the charge for the service doesn’t cover the full cost, which is true. The difference is that public transit systems probably shouldn’t be profitable, but businesses should, but I didn’t read it as loquacious criticizing public transport.
posted by snofoam at 12:27 PM on July 1, 2019


You've been posting interesting experiences, but I'm kinda disappointed with the analogy you went with here. It's not only offensive, but also inaccurate, almost to the point of being a non-sequitur.

Sorry, it is a clumsy analogy - but here's the stretch and my reasoning, and I say this as a life-long transit rider and non-driver. I love public transit.

Most modern transit systems depend on public investment and funds in the form of approved taxes. This is fine and good and really the way it should be because of how much benefit it provides. Like schools, and municipal water systems, and even libraries. While fare recovery is a significant part of the budget and income for usually doesn't directly pay all of the bills. Many smaller or rural transit systems don't even charge a fare because the fare recovery wasn't worth it, or it slowed down boarding so much that it was not profitable - as in what used to be Seattle's free ride zone downtown.


The stretch and analogy I'm going for here is that many of these gig economy platforms are operating at similar losses, except instead of through publicly approved taxes and operating budgets - they're conversely abusing a number of different public assets such as health care or not paying a living wage and forcing workers to apply for benefits without public permission to subsidize their business model.

On top of this any wealth destruction via a failed business model is also born out by the public and private investor at large.

My point is isn't that public transit requires public funding, but that gig economy platforms are effectively abusing public funding to subsidize their business costs. (See also: Walmart and how they guided employees to apply for benefits and food stamps.)

Again, it's a clumsy analogy but I couldn't come up with something better or more relatable to describe how each individual task or delivery was being supported and subsidized in ways that may not be directly related to the stated market price (IE, a fare) for that service to an individual.
posted by loquacious at 12:29 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I’m a waiter. I don’t even know what my hourly pay is, I just know it isn’t enough to cover my taxes. I make an excellent hourly rate (between $22-$28 per hour, depending on the shift) because the breakfast joint I work at is always super busy and I see the same faces over and over and most are decent tippers.

Now we have Waitr and DoorDash and another one, I don’t know what it’s called. I spend my day doing everything in my power to ignore those fucking screens, because the Word From On High is that servers are responsible for putting those orders in the system. I don’t get tipped for that. And servers are responsible for bagging to-go orders. That means butter and syrup for waffles and pancakes and napkins and jellies and checking to make sure that ticket got gluten-free toast and this ticket got cheese in their eggs (people seriously order scrambled eggs for delivery. I hate people.). All that shit takes time that I do not have, it takes me away from my section, it clogs up the kitchen so people in the restaurant sit longer and tables turn more slowly. And it puts zero zippo nada nil bupkis in my pocket.

The whole thing is a clusterfuck. I HATE these web-based delivery services. I’ll order a pizza from Domino’s now and then through their app, but FUCK Waitr and GrubHub and the rest of them. They’ve managed to squeeze even more free labor out of us servers, and I resent the hell out of it, and I resent the hell out of my restaurant’s owner for allowing it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:39 PM on July 1, 2019 [24 favorites]


More to the point, I'm trying to point out that every individual who uses these services is in some convoluted way helping subsidize some or all of the artificially low price of whatever gig economy service they think they're paying for.

Presuming, of course, it involves the sort bad business practices, erosion of labor rights and so on that we are discussing.

If there's a gig economy platform paying a living wage and engaging in ethical practices, they are hopefully excluded from this analogy and may even be a net positive rather than a net negative.

For the record, I think this is possible. I think a delivery platform where the algorithms are more helpful and positive could be a powerful thing.

I remember cursing at the Postmates app and asking myself why it couldn't manage multiple orders easier, why it wasn't aware of traffic or hills, why it would even try to show me orders from areas too far away to complete even though it knew I was on a bicycle and not in a car or riding a scooter.

There is so much data that could have been used for good and good service, but instead it acted as a gatekeeper and cruel game master, and this was surely by design. But, nah, I'm just the guy on the street schlepping burritoes, what do I know?

There's no reason why there couldn't be a fully unionized delivery and courier service where the app and platform encourages teamwork and dispatch that makes sense. It would cost more, likely about 3x more than existing rates, but it would be humane and even fun to work for and wouldn't rely on obfuscated abuse of the social safety net and civic fabric.
posted by loquacious at 12:43 PM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don't think it could exist at the price that the service is worth* and that's okay - it doesn't have to exist. This used to be a thing that only happened in NY, SF and a few other large cities with Seamless.


*barring a Netflix scenario where the big pizza companies decide to outsource their delivery drivers to GrubHub
posted by Selena777 at 1:15 PM on July 1, 2019


I just read a new book on the platform economy, Uberland:How Algorithms Are Rewriting The Rules Of Work. The author does a good job of looking into the reality of the gig economy, including the smartphone-enabled surveillance.

It's hard to have these conversations without dwelling on the individual consumer response
-- DeleteUber, install Lyft, because Lyft didn't have a jerk CEO and was marginally better to drivers
-- Delete GrubHub, install (I think I saw a few recommendations upthread?), or
-- Delete GrubHub, call the restaurant directly

It's really a hard regulatory environment for policymakers, to respond, anticipate, to legislate.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:37 PM on July 1, 2019


offensive

Yes. I don't know what wizards has to do with this, but yes, the analogy is offensive if you come from the perspective that public transit is valuable, sustainable and a positive investment of public resources. This is a derail, but I think it's important to be clear about what activities create value and which are parasitic.

modern transit systems depend on public investment and funds in the form of approved taxes

This is where you should have stopped. As soon as you tried to equate business operations between a public asset and a private corporation, you're bound to get muddled (I'm happy to give a longer answer why, but I think you already know).
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 1:41 PM on July 1, 2019


That gets back to my point that "predatory practices" is a poor choice of words here. if this was truly without the restaurant's permission, then Github is committing trademark/copyright infringement.

Trademark only works if the restaurant owns a trademark. Few local places do. Copyright infringement is a more likely route if GrubHub is using the company's logo or whatever. If the terms of service skymt dug up are correct the restaurant probably signed away rights to use those materials without even realizing it. That's part of why we're using the term predatory. The fact that a bunch of victim restaurants are saying "hey wait a minute we didn't approve that" is another. They feel like they've been preyed upon.

Also in your efforts to split some rhetorical hairs you sidestepped my actual initial point, which is I'm guessing at no point did a local restaurant say "yes, GrubHub, please make a copycat website for my restaurant and market the shit out of it so you capture significantly higher fees from me". That's the very definition of predatory.
posted by Nelson at 2:44 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


I notice that the one restaurant owner who's posted here was ripped off by JustEat, not Grubhub. Under UK case law*, where JustEat is based, small businesses do get protection from unfair contract terms, and it strikes me that signing away the rights to impersonate your business online would've covered by that. That said, the restaurateur is not based in the UK, and this isn't EU law yet.

But I can't help but notice the person who was all "lol, you should've read your contract" referred to the restaurant delivery intermediary as GitHub. Internet tough people always hold people to stricter standards than they do themselves, I guess.

*and the intention was to make this UK statute law, but the UK legislative pipeline is a bit of a mess right now, and actually helping entrepreneurs is not what our allegedly pro-business party is prioritising, to say the least.
posted by ambrosen at 3:35 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


God I hate the 21st century.

Don't worry, it won't be around for much longer.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:11 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Watching GrubHub die breaks my heart. I remember when they were in a building that was part of a boat yard in Chicago. The little guy. When they moved to an office building they lost the way.
posted by @homer at 4:15 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


in your efforts to split some rhetorical hairs you sidestepped my actual initial point

Given my proclivity to mix up businesses, I think I have failed at even splitting hairs.

at no point did a local restaurant say "yes, GrubHub, please make a copycat website for my restaurant and market the shit out of it so you capture significantly higher fees from me".

I struggle to see a world where "a contract says what I think it says, not what it actually says" is a viable world. Should businesses who did not expect the "fake" website to be created, but still ended up benefiting from extra sales from the "fake" website pay Grubhub for the service? Wouldn't this incentivize businesses to ignore contracts completely and then complain about "predatory practices" when something goes contrary to their expectation?

There's an easy standard here - contracts mean what they say. If you don't agree to them, don't sign them. If on the off chance Grubhub starts to act as a monopoly... well, we have laws for that.
posted by saeculorum at 5:48 PM on July 1, 2019


There's an easy standard here - contracts mean what they say. If you don't agree to them, don't sign them. If on the off chance Grubhub starts to act as a monopoly... well, we have laws for that.

Your position is idiotic, and your line of reasoning doesn't stand up to even moderate scrutiny. You should stop embarrassing yourself.
posted by codacorolla at 6:07 PM on July 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


There's an easy standard here - contracts mean what they say.

If this was easy, a lot of lawyers would be out of business. There’s a lot of things included in contracts that can never be enforced, or have dual meanings, or are less than precise.
posted by sallybrown at 6:12 PM on July 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


That gets back to my point that "predatory practices" is a poor choice of words here. if this was truly without the restaurant's permission, then Github is committing trademark/copyright infringement. There's a specific term for that. We should not use ambiguous terms when there are specific legal violations that are being alleged. Whenever I see ambiguous terms like "predatory practices", I think "not nice thing to do, but completely legal" due to what I perceive to be overly broad usage of the term.

Or it means: breaking the rules, but in such a way that it is extremely difficult for individual victims to call them to account, as with the exploitation of confessions of judgment in connection with merchant cash advances to small businesses.
posted by praemunire at 8:51 PM on July 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


And now I know why my local go-to thai place has put "(official)" on their web site title and seo tagging. No more GrubHub for me.
posted by davejay at 9:39 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


but still ended up benefiting from extra sales from the "fake" website

I think the argument being made is that the restaurant doesn’t make money/loses money when the order comes from the doppelgänger website due to higher fees. So there is no benefit to the restaurant and Github is not a partner in a symbiotic business relationship but is really a parasite, sucking all the profit from the host.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 6:55 AM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


Pertinent quote from the article, "For the customer, the experience is the same. But for the restaurant, it couldn’t be more different. If a customer calls a restaurant on its actual listed phone number, GrubHub never gets involved. The company doesn’t get a commission, and the restaurant makes more money, about 30 percent more, if it’s lunch at Shivane’s."

Food is usually priced with a 33/33/33 model - 33 percent prep cost, 33 percent overhead cost, and 33 percent profit. If Grubhub is taking 30% of a sale with their scammy shadow site method, then they're essentially taking the profit and the restaurant is serving the dish for free. In fact, at a loss, since they've spent time on a zero gain product.
posted by codacorolla at 7:19 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Update from Grubhub
According to a partial Grubhub contract obtained by the Los Angeles Times, a provision states that Grubhub “may create, maintain and operate a microsite (“MS”) and obtain the URL for such MS on restaurant’s behalf.
and
In [CEO] Maloney’s email, the CEO maintains that the sites were created in an effort to boost restaurants’ online presence and that these websites do not drive up commission fees from businesses.
(specifically Maloney indicates commissions on microsite orders were $1 or less, although the contract allows for commissions up to 20%).
posted by saeculorum at 7:47 PM on July 2, 2019


A few months ago, I placed an online order for pickup at a place near my job. I had to create a grubhub account to pay. Then when I got there, they said I can use their own website to order and I told them I had. They said I wasn't the first person to tell them that. I am going to try again.

I do use a food app called Foodsby that sets up delivery to office buildings. A restaurant signs up for a single delivery time and users pay $2.00 for delivery. This way, the driver only has to make one trip to each building. They drop the meals at a specific shelf outside our building manager's office. The accuracy has been about 90 percent and the timing is not always perfect, but the people in my office who use it love the variety. There was another app trying to get us to sign up so we can order ahead and skip the line. For me, the line is not the issue, but sometimes the distance is.
posted by soelo at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2019


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