Home-cooked meals can be a troublesome affair. First, a savoury, nutritious meal must be chosen from what seems like an endless selection of dishes. Then a trip to the supermarket is required to locate the various, skillfully-disguised ingredients, a task more challenging than identifying a Bichon Frise in a cotton field. Finally, there’s the messy business of actually cooking the meal, during which everything must be chopped appropriately, timed precisely, and presented somewhat handsomely.
If the troublesome task of cooking is too much for us, we can visit a local restaurant instead, though this requires us to adorn appropriate clothing and the proper facial expressions, when we’d really rather sit in front of the television like blissfully comfortable, rotund slugs, with no nearby humans to offend.
Enter food delivery services Deliveroo and Uber Eats. For the lazy among us, their discovery was one of air-punching jubilance — we suddenly had access to a huge selection of local restaurants, via smartphone apps designed with such skill that not a shred of brainpower is needed to successfully order luscious food, right to your front door. Deliveroo and Uber Eats are a lazy consumer’s dream, and their popularity is unsurprising. They release us from the effort of home cooking and the social obligations of dining out, granting us the convenience of being slothful hermits, comfortable and gratified within the safety of our home.
Deliveroo and Uber Eats are wonderful for the consumer, but not-so-great for restaurants and delivery riders. Beneath their wonderfully-designed facades are business practices that appear to be hell-bent on profit, with negligible ethical considerations. Here’s why.
Restaurants get next to nothing
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Uber Eats take a 35% commission on every single order, and Deliveroo an average of 30% (negotiated per restaurant). For many small business owners, that’s their entire gross profit. Each restaurant must calculate whether food delivery services bring enough additional profit to justify the work. Caitlin Crawfurd — owner of Petty Cafe in Melbourne — accused Uber Eats of acting like “feudal overlords,” and decided to remove her restaurant from the directory due to the excessive commission rates, and their insistence upon sharing the cost of order errors — another financial penalty that makes it even harder for small eateries to make profit. Burgers by Josh owner Josh Arthurs made the same decision, claiming that “you’re doing it for free with Uber Eats.” Tax specialist Cameron Keng agrees, who after comparing average gross profit margins with Uber Eats commission rates, concludes that “Uber Eats will eat you into bankruptcy.”
Mr Arthurs has also taken a reputation hit due to Uber Eats, after a customer gave his restaurant a one-star review due to the food being cold on arrival — a factor completely outside of his control.
If food delivery services are so costly, why do restaurants use them? One of the main reasons appears to be free marketing — a way to gain additional exposure in the hope that customers will forego their laziness and decide to visit the eatery in person, though it’s questionable (and difficult to measure) how often this actually happens. What’s worse, Deliveroo and Uber Eats have the potential to turn a profitable, regularly visiting customer into a non-profitable, regular delivery customer.
There’s also the palpable fear of becoming “invisible”. If a restaurant decides to abandon food delivery services, will customers bother to visit now that they have quick access to a hoard of other eateries via the apps? The existence and popularity of the apps may make a restaurant feel obliged to continue using them, out of fear that they’ll shrink into oblivion. Uber Eats and Deliveroo has them by the balls, which is why they can continue to charge extortionate commission rates. Maybe if restaurants rallied together and quit, the services would consider charging a fairer percentage?
Delivery riders get next to nothing, and have little power
Delivery riders for Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Foodora staged a protest in Sydney last year, claiming to earn as little as $6 p/hr—less than a third of the Australian minimum wage. In the UK, Uber Eats originally paid their delivery riders £20 p/hr, but as the service grew in popularity, wages decreased to a complex formula of £3.30 per delivery, plus £1 per mile, plus a £5 “trip reward.” Deliveroo engaged in similar tactics, initially paying £7 p/hr, plus £1 a delivery, petrol and customer tips. It shortly moved to a one-off delivery payment of £3.75. Many riders struggle to earn a living in the food delivery gig economy, lacking the protection of a standard minimum wage.
Business author Sangeet Paul Choudary believes that the creation of a well-functioning food delivery market is at odds with empowering workers, and as a result, Uber and Deliveroo are exploiting their workers in order to be successful. The platforms afford little control to their riders, setting wages, shift times, and delivery routes, without the possibility of negotiation. Delivery riders for these services simply cannot work on their own terms. In addition to this, the reputation that they build while working for Uber Eats or Deliveroo cannot be ported over to another job, as they’re technically self-employed. This makes it difficult for workers to shift to employment that is outside of the platform, which is all other employment.
There’s also the question of collective bargaining rights, recently denied by the UK courts for Deliveroo riders, due to their self-employed status. These food delivery services appear to have designed their businesses in such a way as to grant their riders as little power as possible, making collective action nigh on impossible.
Back in Australia, a recent workers right inquiry confirmed that gig economy workers have lower wages than regular employees, and miss out on a number of other benefits. Until governments consider protective regulation for gig economy employees, food delivery services will continue to exploit their workers.
The restaurant becomes crowded
Former restaurant hostess Darby Hane believes that delivery services make the work day in a restaurant a “living hell,” cluttering up the establishment and diminishing the experience for profitable guests.
“There are more delivery people than there are restaurant patrons waiting for a table, because new guests cannot bypass this cluster at the front door.”Darby Hane
Entering a restaurant to be faced with a wall of brightly-clad delivery workers, heads bowed staring at their phones, makes for a terrible first impression and could set a potentially negative tone for the evening.
What’s the alternative to Uber Eats and Deliveroo?
In light of the unethical business practices of Uber Eats and Deliveroo, what should we do instead? The obvious suggestion is getting off our arses and actually going to the restaurant. The food will be fresher, hotter, tastier, and presented nicely, rather than carelessly slung into a plastic container. The restaurant owners will actually make a profit from your visit, so you’ll be helping to support a local business, rather than handing your money over to profiteering food delivery services. You’ll also be paying less, as food pricing on Uber Eats and Deliveroo tends to be higher than the actual restaurant prices. If you’re hell-bent on staying at home, consider visiting the restaurant’s website to determine whether they offer their own delivery service. Even better — endeavour to overcome your laziness and actually cook a meal yourself. It’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper, and you’ll be learning a valuable life-skill in the process.
Though our lethargy will probably defeat us from time to time, if we have any care for the well-being of delivery workers, or the prosperity of culture-boosting local restaurants, we should consider a boycott of Uber Eats and Deliveroo. Their exploitative business practices have been supported by us for long enough.