Toronto is getting fed up with food delivery apps

It’s a great time to be alive for people who don’t feel like going outside today.

Need some toilet paper? Amazon Prime. Bored? That’s what Netflix is for. Lazy? Lyft. Sober? Runner. Lonely? Tinder. Hungry? The app store is your oyster, my friend. 

Phone-based food delivery services have changed urban living in a way that’s subtle, yet profound, and Toronto is only just reaching a critical mass of regular users. 

It’s no longer considered indulgent to get multiple meals a day delivered to your condo door via Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes or DoorDash – and if it is, most of us don’t care. Not after last month’s brutal cold snap. Not when we’re hungover on a rainy Sunday.

Spend 5 minutes in a neighbourhood like Liberty Village or CityPlace if you don’t believe me. Cyclists with pink Foodora bags are more common now than cabs. Big square Uber Eats backpacks spend more time in elevators than dogs with balloons on their feet.

Skip The Dishes, a relatively small player in Toronto’s market, saw revenues grow by 10,969.6 per cent between 2013 and 2016 alone.

It doesn’t take much math to figure out the damage that these seductively easy services can cause to our bank accounts, but the appification of food delivery isn’t just hurting our wallets, it’s hurting our favourite restaurants

Some businesses won’t even deal with Uber Eats and the like because it’s just not worth the damage to their brands.

“It wasn’t bad in the beginning,” says Joe Lombardo, who owns That’s Italian Ristorante in Richmond Hill and Woodbridge, noting that he’d been using Uber Eats and Skip The Dishes for about a year before swearing off delivery apps entirely.

He, like many restaurant owners, had a problem with the lack of quality control staff could exert over food once it left his establishment. 

“We’re a bit more in the mid to high range. People order $ 75-200 worth of food,” he said. “And when its -20 C outside, these [Uber Eats drivers] are showing up without insulated bags.”

Lombardo says that, despite repeated requests, Uber Eats drivers kept showing up at his restaurant without the right equipment to transport his food – and when customers would receive cold meals, “they’ll call ME back,” he says. “I look like the bad guy.”

Uber, in its defense, told us that “given the speed of delivery, food temperature tests show that thermal bags have a limited impact.”

Skip The Dishes was even worse, according to Lombardo, on account of a “rigid system” that charges restaurant owners by the minute if orders aren’t ready when the driver pulls up.

And yet, he says, if the driver is late to pick that same order up, they incur no penalty at all – even if food gets cold in the process.

“It’s easy for these apps and these drivers,” he says.”I’m the one who gets the negative reviews and the complaints.”

Business owners regularly turn to their peers on the popular Food and Wine Industry Navigator Facebook page for advice on such matters. A recent post from asking if its “worth it” to sign a partnership with Uber Eats was met with a resounding chorus of “no”, “nope” and “stay away.”

As someone in another thread from the group put it, the delivery app is a “parasite business model that’s out to f-ck you while smiling and telling you it’s all great.”

Food writer and author Corey Mintz explored the business benefits (and costs) behind using food delivery apps in a recent article for TVO.

As it turns out, merchants pay a lot of money to use them – upwards of a 35 per cent commission on every sale plus a significant “startup” fee for Uber Eats, slightly less for Foodora and DoorDash.

“Most restaurateurs, however, seem resentful, feeling that these companies have poached their customers, and that they can’t afford not to pay the ransom in the form of a sales commission,” says Mintz.

“But they feel they can’t say no,” he explains, “as these companies gobble up market share by transforming diners into delivery customers.”

To top it off, a lot of food ordered through the most popular delivery apps in this city actually goes to waste. Lombardo says that an order can go through to a restaurant, but then get cancelled by a driver (or simply ignored by drivers in the area who don’t want to pick it up.)

In this case, the food is either tossed out or, in some cases, donated to local shelters.

Customers, for their part, have become increasingly disillusioned with food delivery apps in Toronto over the past few years.

Whether its a case of more people using the apps (thus more people complaining about the apps,) surge pricing fatigue, or a genuine decline in service quality, more people seem to be griping about orders gone wrong lately.

Missing items, cold food and super long wait times are among the most common complaints. I literally waited two hours a few weeks ago for something from Fresh that, in retrospect, I should have walked 15 minutes to pick up.

My boyfriend has had items missing from his order (usually pop) at least five times this year alone, all from different restaurants, using various delivery services (but mostly Foodora.)

“I have found hair, raw chicken, and even blood on a napkin,” says Toronto-based digital marketer Vanessa Cito of her experience with some local delivery apps. 

“Drivers should be responsible to look at the food and see the quality or if items are missing,” she said. “The majority of my orders, something is wrong.”

Designer and podcaster John Leschinski recently paid almost $ 40 for two iced teas and a Coke from McDonald’s.

“I order McDonald’s for 3. All combos,” he said. “It takes forever, but I assume it’s cause they are on a bike, like the app showed.”

When the driver arrived at his place (in a car) she handed him a tray with three drinks in it. Nothing else.

“I ask where my food is,” he explained. “She says he doesn’t have it and that it’s Uber’s problem – to call them.”

When Leschinski phoned the customer service number for Uber Eats, he was told he’d get a refund – after they calculated how much the drinks costs to deduct it from what he’d get back.

“Hard no,” he said. “Never ordering from Uber Eats again.”

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