Why Restaurants Are Fed Up With Apps

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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.

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.