PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Milena Pagan found out her bagel shop was listed on GrubHub the same way she discovered it was on DoorDash: when a delivery driver attempted to order something she didn’t have.
Rebelle Artisan Bagels was never affiliated with either delivery app, yet customers were still able to order their bagels and pastries online, much to Pagan’s surprise — and dismay.
“It wasn’t really a good feeling to find they’re using our name and making money off of our business without our involvement,” Pagan said. “I think this tactic is really predatory.”
The tactic is this: GrubHub, DoorDash and some other popular food delivery apps will find in-demand restaurants and add them to their marketplaces without the owners’ consent.
Since the restaurants aren’t officially partnered with the apps, there is no cost to them, and the tab is passed on to the customer. Instead of the restaurant taking the order directly from the GrubHub or DoorDash platform, one of the companies’ drivers will walk or call in, wait for the order to be completed, and drive it to their customer.
Both GrubHub and DoorDash said their priority is helping local restaurants grow and build their customer base.
“It’s our aim to bring the best delivery experience possible while balancing the interests of our diners, restaurants and drivers,” said a spokesperson for GrubHub.
A spokesperson for DoorDash told Eyewitness News, “While the majority of the merchants on our platform have partnerships with us, we will occasionally offer to act as a courier service for customers to restaurants in their neighborhood.”
Both also stressed that restaurants can ask to be removed from their sites, which Pagan did.
While Rebelle is no longer listed, Pagan said being on a third party delivery app without her knowledge could have negatively impacted her business.
“If we don’t know that the food is traveling 20 or 30 minutes out to a customer, we can’t prepare it accordingly,” she said. “If there’s a mistake made, we can’t rectify it. So for us, it’s about having control of the customer experience to make sure it’s of the quality and caliber that we want.”
Gio Salvador, co-owner of Tricycle Ice Cream, echoed Pagan’s sentiments and called it an “alarming issue.”
His shop specializes in high-end ice cream sandwiches in a variety of flavors. The items are stored and sold at a specific temperature ─ something that doesn’t play well with delivery.
“GrubHub’s tactic is particularly odious because there seems to be a lack of say on the restaurant’s part,” Salvador wrote in an email to Eyewitness News. “GrubHub doesn’t seem to care if your place of business can handle high volume orders, or if the menu is current and up to date, or even if your product is conducive for traveling.”
“By the time we had realized we were on the platform, it was already too late and we found ourselves bombarded with orders some of which with items that we no longer carry,” Salvador continued. “What GrubHub has essentially done is take the reigns away from small businesses and place it in this streamlined system in which not everyone is fit to participate in.”
The idea to ask forgiveness rather than permission isn’t new in the food delivery scene. DoorDash listed Rebelle back in 2018 and removed the shop after Pagan asked to opt out.
According to a GrubHub spokesperson, the company started adding restaurants to its marketplace in a similar manner a few months ago.
While Tricycle and Rebelle cut ties with GrubHub, another local food seller — Knead Doughnuts, which has three locations in Providence — decided to partner with them.
“Our model by design is very simple and fast, as nothing is made in the moment,” Knead owner Adam Lastrina said in an email to Eyewitness News. “Donuts in a box, so the influx of orders are easily managed.”
Lastrina said companies like GrubHub and UberEats do the “heavy lifting” of marketing and send customers their way. For his business, it’s a partnership that works.
It’s also consensual.
“I completely understand how others feel their aggressive model is off-putting,” Lastrina said. “It is very strange for a business such as GrubHub to advertise partnerships without their consent. At its core, a partnership is a mutually agreed upon relationship, so a one-sided partnership simply doesn’t work. Or shouldn’t work.”
Pagan said food delivery apps don’t currently jive with her business model, and she fears affiliating with one would cut too deeply into her profit margin.
Both she and Salvador hope customers and fellow restaurateurs will better understand the current system being used.
“We know that bigger cities are starting to push back against their tactics (San Francisco and Philadelphia being two of the bigger ones), but I think that Providence, which has a burgeoning food scene, should be made aware of what they are doing,” Salvador wrote.