xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

While COVID-19 rages, restaurant delivery apps shouldn’t take advantage | COMMENTARY

Rather than using a delivery service for takeout, opt for curbside pickup whenever you can, experts advise. Companies like Grubhub and Uber Eats have been criticized after it was discovered that partnering with these and other third-party services ends up being incredibly costly for restaurants. Especially during the holiday season when local restaurants are struggling more than usual, it would be wise for consumers to do their part and help them keep their profit. File.
Rather than using a delivery service for takeout, opt for curbside pickup whenever you can, experts advise. Companies like Grubhub and Uber Eats have been criticized after it was discovered that partnering with these and other third-party services ends up being incredibly costly for restaurants. Especially during the holiday season when local restaurants are struggling more than usual, it would be wise for consumers to do their part and help them keep their profit. File. (RichLegg/Getty Images)

As much as Baltimore residents should be leery of city leadership’s fondness for whipping up a souffle of regulatory solutions that risk driving away employers and jobs, the latest such concoction looks awfully appetizing. Under the recipe endorsed Wednesday by both Mayor Brandon Scott and Council President Nick Mosby, third party restaurant delivery companies like Grubhub would be able to charge restaurants no more than 15% of the cost of a food order during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, that would essentially cut in half the 30% commission they charge the restaurant on the total order, which can eat up the eatery’s profit margin. And that’s not even counting the added fees assessed customers, along with tips.

In a perfect world, the Grubhubs of the world would have already voluntarily taken such action, if only to keep restaurants in business. After all, these companies have justified their high fees in the past with the claim that they bring customers who wouldn’t normally order out. The convenience of the app — which provides long lists of restaurant menus from fast-food to high-end fare, processes payments and even allows you to track your driver’s progress — is obviously an attraction to people who prefer to stay at home but let someone else do the cooking. The formula has proven so successful that the company’s stock trades at more than twice its value from when it went public six years ago and there are imitators galore including Postmates and Uber Eats.

Advertisement

But surely the pandemic has fundamentally changed the circumstances. No longer is food delivery some added luxury or an opportunity for restaurants to snag future dine-in customers (justifying a short-term loss). Takeout and delivery have become the economic lifelines that are keeping these important small businesses from going under entirely. Not every eatery can afford to provide its own delivery service, however. And even if they could, they would likely have trouble competing against the apps that put not one menu but dozens and dozens at the user’s fingertips. It would be the equivalent of one breakfast cereal company setting up shop across the street from a grocery store with a full cereal aisle: Its chances of success are slim no matter how good the product.

Baltimore is far from the first city to pursue such a remedy. San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have adopted delivery fee caps that continue during the duration of a declared public health emergency, which Baltimore has been under since March. Under terms of the legislation proposed by Councilman Eric Costello and expected to be approved by the full City Council next month, the cap would be lifted 90 days after the emergency is declared over. That, too, seems reasonable, given how it will take time even after the vaccines have done their work for people to feel fully safe with in-person dining.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Of course, we can expect the usual hue and cry from those who believe none of this would be necessary if local government had not treated restaurants so harshly, most recently with orders suspending not just indoor dining but outdoor dining in Baltimore. Anne Arundel County was set to curtail indoor dining as well as of 5 p.m. Wednesday but a last-minute temporary restraining order halted that, leaving the county with a 25% seating maximum until a hearing is held later this month. Both Mayor Scott and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman acted out of necessity: Rising COVID-19 positivity rates, caseloads and hospitalizations are threatening the region’s capacity to deal with the acute care patient load. People taking off their masks to eat and drink, even if social distancing protocols are followed, represent too great a risk under the circumstances, particularly if done indoors or in the fully-enclosed outdoor tents many restaurants are erecting to shield customers from the cold weather. Just this week, Maryland’s coronavirus death count surpassed the 5,000 mark, which is two and a half times the number of Maryland soldiers who perished in the Civil War.

Consumers can also do their part to save restaurants, of course. Ordering directly from a restaurant and picking up the food if it doesn’t offer delivery would be helpful. So is ordering from a no-commission app such as Toast. Even in jurisdictions where some indoor seating is still allowed, the hospitality industry is suffering. People who can afford it would be wise to go out of their way to order carryout not just this month but as the pandemic continues. Otherwise, these beloved institutions will be lost, and the local economy will suffer the effects of that for months to come. Cutting exorbitant fees to temporarily boost restaurant margins is a perfectly reasonable form of regulatory relief under these unusual circumstances.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement