Food delivery’s new identity as flashpoint of Covid-19 times somehow feels both unexpected and inevitable. While restaurants have spent the past two months dismantling their entire business model, diners who want to support their favorite spots have submitted to a crash course in hospitality economics, learning that most delivery services charge restaurants commissions upwards of 30 percent on that chirashi bowl or Italian sub you just ordered.
A recent Food and Wine piece went viral encouraging diners to delete their delivery apps. But, for a host of reasons on the safety-convenience spectrum, delivery remains a powerful force in Seattle right now. Recently, Patric Gabre-Kidan, co-owner of New Luck Toy and Rhino Room, got in touch to point out a small and easy step to that puts more of your money in the restaurant’s hands rather than a third-party delivery service.
Say you're looking through Caviar or GrubHub or Uber Eats in search of dinner at your doorstep. Place that same order through the restaurant’s website, rather than through the app, and restaurants generally pay out a much smaller commission. “It could really make a difference” in staying afloat, says Gabre-Kidan. Especially since restaurants seem unlikely to return to what we once knew as normal any time soon. One 2019 report found Seattle spent more on meals from these third-party services than any other city. And that was before the pandemic. As specific guidelines around reopened dining rooms emerge, many chefs think they will stick to takeout in the coming months.
Of course, a restaurant sees the best margins on orders that customers place directly with them and pick up in person. But as Guitar Srisuthiamorn of Ayutthaya and newer spinoff Sugar Hill on Pike/Pine, notes, it’s not uncommon to choose dinner by scrolling an app, Netflix style, in search of a specific type of food. That’s how plenty of people find her family’s 30-year-old Thai restaurant, she says, especially in a city filled with transplants. Of about 300 orders placed at Ayutthaya last month, just one came in directly from the website. “It’s hard to swallow when you’re making $30,000 and paying $10,000 in fees.”
Granted, the terms of restaurants’ agreements with services like Caviar, GrubHub, and Uber Eats are about as clear and consistent as the haggling process at a used car lot, their specifics protected by confidentiality contracts. But delivery companies generally take a cut in the neighborhood of 30 percent. (An emergency order from Mayor Jenny Durkan currently caps that at 15 percent, but only “until restaurants are allowed to offer unrestricted dine-in service”). That commission often shrinks to something like 10 percent if you summon that same delivery service through the link on a restaurant’s website.
Gabre-Kidan crunched some numbers from New Luck Toy, the West Seattle bar he owns with Mark Fuller. In 2019, aka pre-Covid times, just 15 percent of their food delivery orders went through the New Luck Toy website rather than through Caviar’s various platforms. And 75 percent of those were delivery, rather than takeout. He realizes it’s counterintuitive to find a restaurant on an app built for one-click convenience, then go open that restaurant’s’ website to see if they have a direct link. But "this is such an easy way for people to help the restaurant community by doing almost nothing different.”
And in this moment when so many people have time on their hands, doesn’t building that habit feel more purposeful than even the mightiest sourdough starter?