The Current Delivery and Takeout Situation for SF Bay Area Restaurants During COVID-19

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The katsu sando from Stonemill Matcha (which is sadly closed for now). Photo: © tablehopper.com.

On March 19th, Governor Newsom issued a statewide, stay-at-home order in California to “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19. San Francisco was already ordered to stay at home on March 17th, making it literally impossible for food-loving San Franciscans to dine in restaurants. (As if things weren’t bad enough for restaurants of late.) Some restaurants have decided to offer take-out only, while others are scrambling to add third-party delivery (as you can imagine, there is quite a backlog). Some restaurants have opted to temporarily close for now, like Souvla, even though they already had a robust delivery and take-out business. So many are in danger of closing permanently (RIP to our dear Locanda, which has confirmed their closure is sadly permanent).

In all cases, restaurants are assessing what their employees want to do: do they want to work? Or do they want to go home and limit their exposure? Even running a skeleton crew in a spotless, sanitized kitchen with the utmost safety standards still presents proximity and contact with fellow workers, customers, delivery folks, products, money, and more. My mind reels at how many restaurant industry workers don’t have a job right now. And bars and clubs, all closed. It’s unfathomable. (And we should be especially concerned about our undocumented workers, who can’t collect unemployment.) More on how to support our F&B folks in another post.

It’s troubling that delivery—which has been destroying our city’s dining landscape—is now part of its survival right now. Sadly, these third-party apps have had a rather mercenary and unsupportive response to this current and unprecedented crisis. If you have the choice, please do takeout to save the restaurant the delivery commission fee they’ll be charged, which can go up to 30 percent. Takeout puts the money directly into the hands of the businesses, so that’s the best option.

Delivery happens, though, and it’s a sensible way to show your support, get fed, and minimize contact (most third-party apps have instituted no-contact delivery). And now that businesses that serve food and have a beer and wine (Type 41) or liquor license (Type 47) can now offer to-go and delivery of beer and wine, liquor, cocktails, and more, depending upon which license they have, well, wow, that helps. (More on that here.)

But not all delivery services are created equal, especially now. I’ve looked at the fine print of some of our local delivery companies and what they are and aren’t offering during this crisis. I’ve included my discount codes to incentivize you to order delivery to support restaurants, and in turn, thanks for helping me support them, too.

Postmates has waived commission fees for new vendors to the platform in SF (for now—no word on when the offer ends), so more money goes to the restaurant. Pre-existing accounts don’t seem to get any relief. At least they’re looking out for their workers with the “Postmates Fleet Relief Fund, which aids our Postmates in covering the costs of co-pays or medical expenses related to COVID-19, regardless of diagnosis. Additionally, in the event a fleet member tests positive for Covid-19 [sic], the fund can be used to cover 2-weeks paid sick leave.” You can use my code for $100 off delivery fees.

Uber Eats has waived delivery fees on thousands of restaurants, which is great for you, the consumer, but I don’t see anything about lowering or waiving commission fees for the vendors, who are the ones who really need the money right now. One good thing: restaurants can opt to receive daily payments on all Uber Eats orders, rather than weekly. Oh, and Uber Eats is committing 300,000 free meals to first responders and healthcare workers in the U.S. and Canada—interested officials and organizations can email here. Get $7 off your first Uber Eats order; use my code at checkout: eats-ubertablehopper.

GrubHub/Seamless made big noise about waiving fees, but in fact they’re just deferring them, which means they can come back to claim them (and you know they will). And partners have to commit for a year. In any event, take an extra second and make sure the restaurant you think you’re ordering from is actually delivering through that service, mmkay? And think about using someone else, they really don’t care one iota about the restaurants on their platform—just read their latest “support” initiative.

DoorDash/Caviar were the last to announce anything, but are doing similar lackluster programs. From now through the end of April, independent restaurants can sign up for free with DoorDash and Caviar and pay zero commissions for 30 days. This is not a deferral of fees, nor will merchants be asked to pay anything back, so that’s helpful. The small bone they threw existing DoorDash and Caviar partners is that restaurants will pay no commission fees on pickup orders. Which is pretty pointless—you could have just called the restaurant and ordered takeout. (AND: you can’t even leave a tip with their pickup interface, so bring cash.)

They mention they “are also providing additional commission reductions for eligible merchants that are already on DoorDash”—but no word about pre-existing Caviar accounts. And they also say they’re “earmarking up to $20 million in merchant marketing programs to generate more revenue for restaurants that are already on DoorDash,” when I say just give the restaurants the money to survive right now.

I do appreciate that they “are joining forces with community organizations to deliver an estimated one million pounds of groceries and prepared food through our national partner, United Way Worldwide, serving seniors, low-income families, and mobility-impaired individuals across the U.S.” And somehow, they are “shipping more than 1 million sets of free hand sanitizer and gloves to Dashers and Caviar couriers.” So, there’s that. Here’s $10 off your first two Caviar orders.

Delivery has become a necessary evil to help some restaurants even have a shot at survival right now. It feels like putting the smallest Band-Aid on a brain hemorrhage, but something is better than nothing. Sadly, none of the delivery services are offering true support. But if any restaurants have a positive story to share, like a pre-existing account getting a discounted commission fee, please let me know.

So, if you can’t do takeout, but you still want to show support through delivery, here’s an idea: after you place your order and you’re waiting for your food, why don’t you send a private message on Instagram to the delivery company you just used, and demand they lower or eliminate delivery commission fees for restaurants right now—not just new accounts, and not just deferral. Heck, send a message to all of them. Comment on their latest IG post. Post a picture of your food and say: “I wish I could have had this delivered without “X: third-party app” charging “X: restaurant name” a delivery commission fee.” Tweet. Write a Facebook post and tag them. Make sure your friends and fam know to #supportsmallbusiness.

I wish the consumer had the choice to reverse a no-delivery fee and be able to pay for the delivery and send the fee/money to the restaurant/vendor.

These commission fee policies won’t change unless we get loud about them. It’s not the time for these third-party apps to be profiting off of the businesses that are absolutely drowning right now—they need to be SUPPORTING THEM.

And PLEASE TIP YOUR DELIVERY PERSON. BIG. They are exposing themselves to all kinds of potential risk right now to bring you food and make a living. Tip your counter person if you’re doing takeout. Tip the restaurant. Almost every restaurant I know has launched a GoFundMe or virtual tip jar on Venmo or PayPal for their staff and survival. Contribute if and where you can. Ask a favorite restaurant how you can help if they haven’t posted anything.

Know someone who just got laid off? A senior? Someone who is self-quarantined? Food-insecure? Send them food! There are also restaurants that are offering affordable or free meals for those in need, like Che Fico, Bistro SF Grill, Split, and Mixt. (Check my Instagram Stories for details.)

I love the restaurant community so damn much. They are generous, talented, scrappy, hard-working, nimble, altruistic, and OG hustlers. They are scrambling to do what they can to survive. Many are pivoting to offer meal kits, family-meals, health-boosting dinners, meals for $5.50, pay-what-you-can meals, pay-it-forward meals…some are just offering delivery and takeout so they can pay their staff and are not taking any profit. Some have converted their restaurant into a general store/pantry, like Prairie and now Verjus.

Personally, I’m experiencing a deluge of emails, DMs, tags, tweets, and more. I’m trying to keep up but it’s daunting. (Apologies to anyone I haven’t replied to or RT’ed or reposted yet, please know I’m trying!) If you’re on Instagram, tune in to my Instagram Stories (what, you weren’t following @tablehopper already?), where I’m trying my best to quickly showcase which restaurants are adapting by offering new takeout menus and more. It’s super-inspiring to see these folks get so creative in tough times. Click through to the original posts for more details. Forward to friends. Repost! Hit save on any you want to support so you remember.

You can keep up in my Stories, and check the following Highlights for recaps. Please note d/t stands for delivery/takeout.

SF d/t
510 d/t
650 d/t
North Bay d/t

There’s also an F&B resources highlight, where I’m posting any updates to help service folks.

For those of you who aren’t on Instagram, I’m sorry, but you can always sign up for an account so you can access all this info. It’s easy. You don’t have to post a thing, just follow. ;) (Sadly I can’t forward many of these Stories to Facebook.)

I don’t have the bandwidth to maintain a comprehensive list on tablehopper—it’s like drinking from a firehose right now, and it’s just me over here. But you can check out some super-helpful interactive maps and lists from Edible SF, Dining at a Distance, Resy, and natch, the Chronicle. Woso has this map up to support small businesses that are open right now. RESTAURANTS: make sure your business is added! There are also these handy 510 roundups from Nosh and Eater.

Pantry full but you still want to support? Give yourself the gift of future delicious meals! Gift cards are an easy way to give these restaurants a much-needed infusion of cashflow now—and some are even offering them at a discount. If you are a restaurant and don’t currently offer gift cards, here’s how. Here’s a page (Save Our Faves) with a collection of gift cards you can purchase (and get your restaurant added to).

People: please keep in mind that if and when these restaurants get back up and running, who knows when, don’t all rush in to cash that gift card at once, they’re going to need to time to get out of the hole and make some revenue. And if they sadly close, please don’t try to collect. (Restaurants: please note you are legally liable for those gift cards—unless you declare bankruptcy—but hopefully people just look at them as a donation.)

Big props to my paesano Sean Timberlake for lending a helping hand with this piece. He and his husband, realtor dpaul brown, have been helping to amplify local restos who are pivoting during this time.