Ethical Dilemmas of Delivery Service Apps (Pt. 3)
As we continue to explore how food and tech interact, I’d like to talk about food delivery - a service you have most likely used more this past year if you are a human who eats. Simply put, food delivery services are third-party entities that connect the restaurant to the consumer. They are mediators, the ones that carry food from point A to point B - for our convenience. Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast. The thing is, these apps are like double-edged swords. Make that triple-edged, if that’s even possible.
They offer many benefits like removing the hassle of having to go pick up your food for yourself, opening up more avenues for restaurants to get their food into clients’ mouths - which is, after all, their primary goal - and in general supporting the takeout culture, a uniquely modern amenity/comfort.
A large part of food delivery services’ existence/ability to function rests on technology. The client orders food online, on some type of digital platform, the restaurant prepares it, and then the delivery person - either a driver or biker - uses GPS to pick it up from the restaurant to bring it to you. The relative ease of delivery is enabled by the applications themselves. The straightforward interfaces present you with an array of restaurant options; you scroll, eventually landing on what you’re looking for; you make a few clicks then pretty soon, food is delivered to your door. In some cases, the apps let you track your order in real-time.
But, as I said, there’s another edge. Or several. Not only do restaurant food delivery companies reinforce the precariousness of the restaurants who use their services and the people who deliver the food, but they also put you, the customer in an uncomfortable situation - both paradoxically and ironically. Indeed, once you understand that these companies do not treat couriers - who are considered essential workers - appropriately and severely limit the profit restaurants could be making because of the fees they charge, you might be prompted to think twice before ordering from one of the giants (Ubereats, GrubHub, Postmates, DoorDash, Seamless, etc.).
I do not write this to make you feel guilty about your takeout habits. As a publication that focuses on the intersection of technology and other disciplines, part of our mission is to uncover the areas where we can take action for social good. Thus, I write this to make you aware of the inequalities that plague the restaurant industry, so that you can make more conscious decisions.
The best way to ethically support restaurants during this particularly difficult time - while satisfying your takeout desires - is to order directly from the restaurant, without using a third-party app, and, if the restaurant does not offer delivery, to pick the food up yourself. Yes, this may be more inconvenient, but it is worth the extra effort to send a polite message to third-party delivery companies that their services are, well, not needed. Another option is to use delivery applications that take ethics into consideration, which is to say they treat both the restaurant and the courier fairly. This community-oriented platforms aim to be more transparent with how they connect the restaurant to the client; some of them do not take a percentage from the order, others charge a flat monthly fee (which still keeps the cost for restaurant much lower than the big apps), and most of them offer support for workers as they struggle through the pandemic. Finally, https://www.notgrubhub.org/ removes the third party element out of the equation entirely, re-establishing the relationship between restaurant and client.
If you are interested in learning more about these services, you can look at this article from Bon Appetit. I urge you to do your research as well, since, in the end, you are the one spending your money.
Evans, Jon. “GrubHub/Seamless's Pandemic Initiatives Are Predatory and Exploitative, and It's Time to Stop Using Them.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 5 Apr. 2020, techcrunch.com/2020/04/05/its-time-to-stop-using-grubhub-seamless-forever/.
“Home Food Delivery: What Is the Most Ethical Way to Order in?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Oct. 2020, www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/oct/25/home-food-delivery-what-is-the-most-ethical-way-to-order-in.
Barkho, Gabriela. “Smaller Food Delivery Apps Are Seeking out More Ethical Business Models.” Modern Retail, 22 Feb. 2021, www.modernretail.co/platforms/smaller-food-delivery-apps-are-seeking-out-more-ethical-business-models/.
Tsapovsky, Flora. “These Food Delivery Apps Are Built for the Community by the Community.” Bon Appétit, www.bonappetit.com/story/food-delivery-apps-for-the-community.
Foss, Phillip. “With Delivery Apps, the Balance Scale Is Severely Tipped Against Restaurants.” Eater Chicago, Eater Chicago, 26 Jan. 2021, chicago.eater.com/2021/1/26/22250664/delivery-apps-destroying-restaurants-chicago-uber-eats-doordash-postmates.