Epistemic Status: Public service announcement. Confident and not sponsored.
[EDIT Added 2/11: The comments (at DWATV) provide a lot of reasonable challenges and a lot of additional reasoning behind my statements, and start to get at the larger things in play.]
Today, I went to one of my favorite local restaurants to find it was closed.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. About a month prior, I lost perhaps my favorite place in the world to go for a nice meal, BLT Prime. Today, I learned I’d lost my favorite Indian place, Old Monk. The list goes on. This has become frequent enough that I’m going to work on a list of places I’m afraid will close, so I can encourage others to help them keep the lights on.
[EDIT: And I wasn’t fast enough, because the very next morning of 2/11, I went to get croissiants at my favorite local bakery, and found it was permanently closed with no warning. Of all the places I’d hate to lose it was at least top three.]
The best way to help keep everyone’s lights on is simple. If you like the restaurant and want those working there to earn a living, and the place to continue to exist, do not order via online services like SeamlessWeb, GrubHub, Delivery.com or Caviar, if there is another way to contact the restaurant. Period.
This is because they take mindbogglingly huge fees out of every order. We’re talking on the order of 20%. I am not one to begrudge a middle man or market creator their reasonable fee. This is not a reasonable fee.
But because customers don’t know, and the store is forced to eat the entire cost or lose the order since customers have been trained by small conveniences and bribes to use the apps and websites, the fees continue to be collected, and the cycle continues. The few places that pass the cost along look super greedy and lose business.
If you would cost your local place $5 to save the cost of a fifteen second phone call, make no mistake. You are defecting. You are playing zero-sum games with those who should be your allies. You are bad, and you should feel bad.
This is way, way, way worse than not tipping where tipping is expected. Not tipping is shirking on the price and pocketing the money. Here you don’t even get the money.
If you are super rich and your time is that valuable, you can tip them 50% (or 500%) and make up for it. In that case, go for it. For the rest of us, seek out the restaurant’s website or if necessary, at least once you know they’re legit, pick up the damn phone. Talking to a human is a small price to pay to support what you get value from.
That’s why the promotions they bombard me with are so rich. How can they give me such deep discounts on almost every order I make? Now I know. They aren’t even always losing money on those orders. The bastards.
In New York City, the pizza places are fighting back using an app called Slice. Slice is essentially the same as the other apps, except it is run by and for pizza places. Thus it only offers local pizza and not other cuisines, but it allows pizza places to avoid the giant fees. As a bonus, they exclude horrible chains from your delivery options. They once sent me a hilarious promotion accusing (very, very guilty) chain pizza stores of ‘crimes against pizza.’
If you can, use Slice. I hope there’s more of these for other types of places in the future. Or better yet, I hope they already exist, in which case tell me in the comments and I’ll update the post.
There are larger principles in play. They are important. But first, be concrete. Start here.