Kristen Flores-Fratto could not figure out why Grubhub drivers were arriving at her restaurant, The Gate House, to pick up orders and her staff was fielding calls from upset customers complaining that their orders were wrong.
The Gate House, a gourmet burger and wood-fired pizza café in the Neighborhood of the Arts, does not contract with Grubhub or any third-party food delivery service — and does not want to.
Flores-Fratto said she came to learn that Grubhub had posted an outdated menu on its website and was taking orders on behalf of customers unbeknownst to the restaurant. Now she was upset.
“People are calling irate that they didn’t get these menu items that they had ordered that we hadn’t been making in so many years,” Flores-Fratto said. “This went on for a couple of months and finally my manager was like, ‘Listen, we’ve got to do something about this. This is causing chaos.’”
In an effort to grab more market share and meet demand, some food delivery companies have scraped menu items from restaurant websites and posted them on their apps without the restaurant’s consent or knowledge.
A bill introduced Tuesday by Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart would ban the practice and require food delivery services to obtain consent from restaurants to list them on their apps for orders and deliveries.
“If DoorDash and Grubhub are listing your restaurant without your permission and menu items that may no longer be offered, the customer is not going to blame Grubhub or DoorDash, they’re going to blame you,” Barnhart said.
Here’s how the practice works: A customer places an order on the food delivery service app, and someone with the delivery service then places the order with the restaurant by phone as a pick-up order. The delivery service employee either pays for the order by phone or at pick-up.
The problems with the practice, restauranteurs said, are many.
Menu items change. Prices change. Customers who think they placed an order through Grubhub call restaurants asking to change or cancel their order and are met by a restaurant worker who has no idea what they’re talking about.
Andrea Parros, owner of The Red Fern in Rochester, is all for the bill. Her restaurant uses two delivery apps, but Parros didn’t realize a third service was advertising her menu until orders started coming in.
"They didn't even have our correct menu," she said. “So customers were ordering things from the fall that we no longer offer in the summer. It provides bad business to the customer; it makes our restaurant look bad."
Marc Taranto, of The Old Stone Tavern in the South Wedge, called it a “back-door dash.”
His restaurant contracts with food delivery services and allows them to post its menus, which Taranto said he modifies regularly. He said he could only imagine the confusion caused by services that surreptitiously post menus and take orders.
“I could see where that’s absolute chaos,” Taranto said. “Who knows what they’re telling the end customer. But I could totally see where the end customer ends up pissed off and it being a black eye on the restaurant.”
Flores-Fratto, of The Gate House, recalled it taking a few months before she and her staff could reach someone at Grubhub with the authority to remove The Gate House from its sites, which the company eventually did.
The bill proposed by Barnhart is similar to one enacted by the state of California earlier this year, and another passed into law in Albany County this month, that require third-party delivery services to have a written agreement with a restaurant before selling its food on their sites.
Briana Megid, a spokesperson for DoorDash, said the company does list some restaurants on its app without their consent as a no-cost trial test to prove the value of its service. She said restaurants can be removed from the platform at their request.
"We know that each merchant should have the power to make choices affecting their business," Megid said in a written statement. “We commend efforts to both support local merchants and ensure that they are heard.”
Grubhub has previously acknowledged partaking in the practice starting in 2019. The company explained in a statement that it began adding restaurants without their permission to meet customer demand and keep up with competing food delivery companies that were doing it.
“It’s very frustrating for restaurants because they simply can’t control the outcome of these services and they can’t control all the revenue,” Barnhart said.
Barnhart also introduced a second piece of legislation that aims to make permanent a 15-percent cap on what food delivery services can charge restaurants in commission fees.
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello signed an executive order in December that capped the fees for six months. He has said he supports the cap being made permanent.
The bills are slated to go to committee next week.
David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Adams is a host and reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.