Apps may feel like the most convenient way to order takeout, but these tech companies are hurting small businesses, even in Greenpoint.
At Greenpoint’s Little Tiffin, Monurai Bhakdina cooks Thai dishes she learned from her grandmother, who was a chef for Thai royalty in Chiang Mai. The restaurant, which opened last July, has been takeout only due to Covid restrictions. Customers can order by phone, in person, through the restaurant’s website, or the Toast Takeout app, for which the restaurant pays a flat monthly fee.
On Saturday, January 9th, Bhakdina and co-owner Keith Sirchio discovered that Seamless and Grubhub had uploaded the restaurant’s menu to their platforms without permission “causing confusion with our customers and disrupting our business,” the restaurant explained in an Instagram post.
They first realized what had happened when, “Someone came in looking to pick up an order. I thought it was a customer, but there was no order under that name. He walked out rudely, said he was going to call the customer then never returned. Two minutes later someone else came in wearing an orange delivery vest asking for another order,” Little Tiffin’s owners said. “Then I got suspicious. We also didn’t have the name he was picking up under. I asked who he’s working for and he said Grubhub. I told him we don’t use them. He showed me his phone with the receipt and Little Tiffin on the header. WTF?! And then another and another.”
Little Tiffin’s owners worried about letting down customers whose orders were never actually received. “Understand that these orders were never placed; never came through our system. Our business was hijacked by Grubhub. Period. We checked and found an outdated menu, a shitty stock photo of a fork on a napkin representing our restaurant, wrong prices and hour-long delivery times on their platforms. So, now we have customers who think they have placed an order, paid for food and the orders keep getting cancelled. It’s not a good look for us or any other restaurant they’ve done this to.”
Grubhub has been sued for this practice, which Eater reported is a part of their business strategy to make users think they have more options. California recently outlawed the practice. In May 2020, New York legislated that delivery apps, like Grubhub, must cap their fees at 15%, in order to allow restaurants to keep more of their takeout profits. After all, without restaurants, and all the expenses they incur, delivery apps wouldn’t succeed.
Desperate to remove the page posted without their consent, Little Tiffin contacted the company, demanding to speak to a supervisor. “It was frustrating having to give out our information to cancel something we didn’t even sign up for and wanted it down immediately, not waiting for a ‘cancelation order’ to work its way through the line,” Little Tiffin’s owners said. “The supervisor told us it would take 48-72 hrs to take it down from the site, but in the meantime people wouldn’t be able to place orders. The page remained on Grubhub and Seamless for two days, but said that our business was closed!” Having the restaurant listed as closed could confuse potential Little Tiffin customers who would have otherwise ordered via the restaurant directly.
Since opening, Bhakdina and Sirchio have avoided delivery apps to have full control over customer experience. “The fees and headaches that come with these delivery apps aren’t worth any potential profits for us. We want to know the who/whens/wheres regarding our food when it leaves our doors for delivery. This gives us the ability to correct any problems immediately if there’s a mistake. We don’t charge delivery fees and our in-house delivery guys get 100% of the tips given.” Ordering directly from the restaurants is always the best way to support them.
Little Tiffin just celebrated its 6 month anniversary and is ineligible for PPP funding because it opened during the pandemic. Last spring, Grubhub reported record profits.
Despite everything, Bhakdina and Sirchio are hopeful about the future and eager to get to know more customers, “The irony of all this is that the original plan for Little Tiffin was to be dine-in only. A cozy, homey Thai place with good vibes and music that feels like you’re having a meal at someone’s house. But here we are! Still looking forward to the day when it’s safe for everyone to sit at our tables. We want to thank the Greenpoint community and fellow businesses so much for the support. We’ve lived here for over 20 years and can’t believe it worked out to have the opportunity to open up our restaurant in the hood.”