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More people are using food delivery apps like Grubhub and Uber Eats to order from restaurants during the pandemic. But can this trend last if so many restaurants are unhappy?
My colleague Nathaniel Popper talked to a restaurant owner in Columbus, Ohio, who was paying fees that averaged more than 40 percent of each sale to one app company. He closed and applied for unemployment.
I talked to Nathaniel about his recent article, which highlights the gap between the promise and the reality of technology to generate more customers for restaurants. The stakes couldn’t be higher, with many restaurants struggling because of coronavirus-related closings and concerns.
Shira: Isn’t keeping 60 percent of a sale better than not having that order at all?
Nathaniel: Many restaurants are realizing that they’re taking a loss on every order through the delivery apps, so those orders don’t make economic sense. Beyond the fees, many restaurants said they felt that delivery apps weren’t good partners — they found it difficult, for example, to reach delivery services to fix problems.
If I become a regular after trying a restaurant from a delivery app, doesn’t that make up for the loss on one order?
There was a hope that delivery apps would generate customers and sales that restaurants wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. But it looks like delivery apps pull people away from eating in or ordering directly from those restaurants.
Are restaurants angry at apps because they’re worried they won’t survive the pandemic?
That’s part of it. Some surveys showed that people planned to use delivery more and have concerns about dining in. If restaurants lose money on delivery orders and there are fewer sit-down customers because of local limits on dine-in numbers or coronavirus fears, the math doesn’t work for a lot of restaurants.
What’s the alternative?
Restaurants are trying options to take orders through their own websites, and use their own delivery couriers or contractors from companies that don’t take a percentage of each order.
Right now, online ordering is a small percentage of restaurant sales, but it’s growing fast. And many people look first at these big apps when they want to order food. That’s why restaurants feel like they both can’t live with these apps and can’t ditch them.
The app companies mostly lose money, restaurants complain, some couriers say they’re making peanuts and many diners don’t like hidden costs or bad delivery experiences. That’s a lot of problems!
That list of unhappy parties is something I thought about a lot. In many cases people are getting a broader range of restaurants to deliver for the first time, at what feels like a reasonable price. Sometimes restaurants absorb the cost of that. A lot of the cost is absorbed by investors in these app companies.
Do YOU use apps for delivery or takeout?
I’ve had mostly bad experiences in the handful of times I’ve used a delivery app. We mostly order from one Thai restaurant near us that does delivery itself, and that we can call if the food is late.
Read more: Brian X. Chen, a personal technology columnist for The New York Times, has tips for ordering delivery or takeout from your favorite local restaurants, while letting them keep most of the money.
And The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Just Eat, a delivery app company in Europe, is close to an agreement to merge with Grubhub. App companies believe they’re better off financially if they combine. This will probably result in higher costs for diners and larger fees for restaurants.
W.H.O., don’t help the conspiracy peddlers
Every time an important institution stumbles, it lends credibility to dangerous conspiracy theories.
That’s what I thought about the communications flub this week by the World Health Organization, which was forced to retract a comment from an official who initially said transmission of the coronavirus by people without symptoms was “very rare.”
A day later, the organization said it didn’t mean what it had said. Multiple scientific studies have found that roughly one-third or more of all coronavirus infections were transmitted by people before they ever felt symptoms. That’s why virtually all scientists and governments are recommending that everyone wear face coverings; it’s hard to tell who might be infectious.
This wasn’t the first time that public health organizations sent the wrong message. Remember the W.H.O., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others initially said that the general public didn’t benefit from face coverings, and then their guidelines changed.
The initial discouragement about masks was so definitive that the U.S. Surgeon General scolded people for buying them — even while there were questions from the beginning about whether this guidance was correct.
Public officials can’t fail like this when they communicate to the public about the coronavirus.
When people lose faith in what public officials say, it plays into the hands of people who fan misinformation and conspiracy theories online. A key tactic of baseless online conspiracies like those in the “Plandemic” video is to prey on people’s concerns that government organizations or public institutions are hiding the truth from us.
Charlie Warzel, an Opinion writer for The Times, has written before that health experts should communicate clearly what they know and be up front about what they don’t know. That is the essential way to build trust with the public.
What we’ve learned from the coronavirus is that we still don’t know very much about this new disease. Bad communication or overconfident proclamations from our leaders is exactly what we don’t need.
Before we go …
The office is now your scolding parent: My colleague Natasha Singer has a fascinating look at how one large company, Salesforce, is approaching coronavirus-safety measures in the office like a software engineering challenge. Out are collaborative work spaces and jars of gummy bears. In are timed tickets for elevators, scheduling software to limit the number of people working at each office and daily symptom surveys for employees.
What we lose in fights between the U.S. and China: New research shows that scientists educated in China help American firms and schools dominate in artificial intelligence. Industry leaders worry that worsening tensions between the countries may lead the United States to lose that edge, my colleagues Paul Mozur and Cade Metz write.
The internet tug of war in India: Bloomberg News writes about the worries in India about TikTok, YouTube and other popular apps from foreign companies. Some Indians believe that TikTok or other apps from companies in China flout local norms by showing vulgar dance moves, and local alternatives to TikTok and YouTube are sprouting up.
Hugs to this
I would like to be friends with this baby who is very enthusiastic about her chunk of mango.
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