Profiting From the Work of Others…

Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association

Similar to how Airbnb and Uber have affected the lodging and transportation industries respectively, we’re now seeing the same level of market-disturbance being caused by third-party delivery services like Grubhub, Postmates, Seamless and DoorDash, among others. While they can be convenient for consumers, business-owners are wary of the drawbacks that these services present. From unapproved usage of brand-sensitive properties such as logos, menus and more, to haphazard service, exorbitant delivery fees, food safety concerns and more, there are many reasons for restaurants to be hesitant about enlisting the services of a third-party delivery purveyor.

To avoid charges and fees, third-party delivery services often forego establishing contractual partnerships with restaurants, listing them on their website or application and posting their menu and logos without the restaurant’s permission. Customers are fooled into thinking that the restaurant itself is offering delivery through these services, when in reality, they’re typically unaware that they’ve been listed in the first place. Essentially, third-party delivery services are capitalizing off of the reputation, services and labor of local businesses with little to no legal oversight. Once the restaurant discovers that they’re unwillingly listed on the service’s website/app, they can request removal. However, several of our members have had to make multiple requests for this to happen.

So, what happens? When a customer places an order on a third-party delivery platform, that order is sent to employees of the delivery service. The delivery service calls the restaurant and places the order as if they are the customer. If the actual customer doesn’t get what they ordered or if the food is cold, didn’t travel properly or any other negative circumstances arise, they become upset with the restaurant, not the delivery service. This happens frequently as unauthorized delivery services have no vested interest in maintaining the integrity of the food they are delivering. Not only does this harm the restaurant’s reputation and opens them up to negative reviews, it also impacts the brand and business operations. . Further exacerbating a negative situation, is that if a customer calls the restaurant to complain about their order, there is no record of them as a customer or what they ordered, leading to additional frustration for the customer and restaurant.

Frighteningly enough, many of these services have no interest in overseeing the delivery of your order. In most cases, once the order has left the restaurant with a third-party delivery driver, the restaurant has totally lost control of the transaction. If the order is incomplete, or if it’s been tampered with during delivery, the responsibility to rectify the order is murky. In the eyes of the consumer, the restaurant holds full responsibility. This lack of accountability on the part of the delivery services raises concerns regarding food safety. Although most of the delivery systems have an option to indicate food allergies, there’s no way of verifying that information is correctly transmitted to the restaurant. Unlike traditional foodservice employees, third-party delivery systems and their drivers aren’t required to undergo allergen training which poses a serious threat to the health and safety of the consumer.

Restaurants, governed by the Rhode Island Food Code, are required to take certain steps to guarantee the safety and quality of all food that’s delivered, and the aptitude of its delivery workers to handle the product accordingly. Third-party delivery platforms are not governed by anything – in fact, their delivery drivers are actually considered as independent contractors and thus aren’t required to have any food safety training, nor are they subject to any food safety screening, such as ensuring the cleanliness of their car.

Because of the aforementioned reasons and many more, the Rhode Island Hospitality Association strongly supports the proposed legislative act H.7414/S.2305, which would prohibit certain practices by third-party delivery systems. If passed, the legislation would prevent third-party delivery systems from using the likeness, registered trademark or intellectual property belonging to a merchant without expressed written consent. Additionally, to obtain such consent, the service must be registered with the State of Rhode Island to lawfully conduct business within its borders. The unregulated activities of third-party delivery companies are not only misrepresenting their relationships with businesses, but are also causing real harm to the local restaurant industry. We believe that this legislation is an important step forward in stopping this behavior and protecting our local restaurants.