Food delivery has a dark side. That we knew, but it does seem to be getting more airtime lately, with legislators and restaurants alike pushing back against some (okay, most) of the practices companies like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats employ. We saw more of that this week when a San Francisco restaurant owner took Grubhub to task and urged others to join her. Judging from Grubhub’s latest earnings call, though, the service isn’t budging on certain practices.
Read on for more on those as well as other noteworthy restaurant news from around the web this week.
Ghost Kitchens Get an Oversight Hearing in NYC
Ghost kitchens are all the rage, but not everyone is thrilled with them. On Thursday, New York City council members held an oversight hearing to discuss whether ghost kitchens are a friend or hindrance to local business, and if they need to be regulated. “Are you a threat to our mom-and-pop restaurants, or should you be embraced as a partner that’s going to help them continue to flourish and grow?” councilmember Mark Gjonaj asked ghost kitchen operators at the hearing. (Gjonaj has also been vocal when it comes to third-party delivery in NYC.)
Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins was present, as was Zuul Kitchens cofounder Corey Mancione. While regulatory measures were not discussed, the event definitely puts a spotlight on the more controversial aspects of ghost kitchens. The main debate at last night’s hearing was whether ghost kitchens hurt small, independent restaurants by lessening overhead costs for bigger chains, who have the deep pockets to more easily embrace off-premises ordering.
TripAdvisor Unveils a Review Aggregator for Restaurant Operators
TripAdvisor launched a new tool on Wednesday that aggregates restaurant reviews from multiple websites so that owners and operators can view all of them from a single dashboard. Dubbed Review Hub, the subscription-based feature gathers reviews from Facebook, Google, Yelp, and “other major review sites” into one place. The aggregated view promises restaurant owners an easier, faster way to spot trends in feedback, see what’s working and what isn’t, and respond to customers more consistently. Subscriptions are available on both a monthly and annual basis.
Planet Hollywood Founder Launches a Virtual Restaurant Network
Robert Earl, known as the founder of Planet Hollywood, has launched a virtual restaurant concept called Wing Squad, which is available exclusively through third-party delivery platforms Grubhub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates. The online menu is fairly streamlined, offering up just wings, sides, and a few desert options, all of which is cooked in ghost kitchens. The restaurant is currently available in 16 cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Detroit, and Las Vegas. Earl, whose Earl Enterprises owns chains like Buca di Beppo and Earl of Sandwich, said in a statement that Wing Squad is part of his Virtual Dining Concepts network. Other online-only restaurants are coming soon.
Grubhub Added 150,000 Non-Partnered Restaurants
Grubhub beat Wall Street estimates for Q4 2019 in what was a drastic change from the company’s dismal third-quarter results. Part of the third-party delivery service’s efforts in Q4 included doubling its restaurant inventory by adding 150,000 non-partnered restaurants — that is, restaurants that do not have contracts with the service and have not given permission to Grubhub to use their menus online. The controversial tactic is also used by Postmates and DoorDash. While Grubhub defends the strategy, saying it is meant to reverse the slowdown in daily orders, more and more restaurant owners are speaking out against the practice, turning the issue into the latest battle between restaurants and delivery services. Mark Gjonaj, over to you.