The “Eat Local” Paradox (OPINION)
March 2, 2021
Enjoy local favorites. Support small businesses. Eat local. Says the companies driving the locals out of business.
The pandemic continues, and with it the closure and capacity changes of many restaurants in the U.S. As a result, food delivery apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats have kicked off 2021 with a new message to its users: support small businesses by eating local. This seemingly harmless message can be read on countless billboards across Tampa, from post notifications for the apps, and on TV commercials, the most notorious of which was UberEats’ “Eat Local” commercial that made its debut during the Super Bowl.
The commercial features the two characters, Wayne and Garth, from Saturday Night Live’s “Wayne’s World,” as well as a cameo from musician Cardi B. In the SNL original skit, Wayne and Garth are co-hosts of a basement-based cable access show — and as a local business themselves, they deliver a message to the viewers at home. “As a local access show, we want everyone to support local restaurants,” says Wayne, played by Mike Myers.
The two have become the face of Uber Eats’ new “Eat Local” campaign, an effort to help local restaurants during the pandemic. This effort includes Uber’s $20 million investment towards various initiatives aimed to benefit small businesses, the most notable of which is a 0% commission fee when customers place pickup orders on UberEats until Jun. 30, 2021.
As a part of our ongoing initiative to show up for local restaurants, we’ve launched the #EatLocal Support Effort.
We’re dedicating $20 million to support local restaurants across the US.
— Uber Eats #EatLocal (@UberEats) February 3, 2021
The term “commission fees” might not sound familiar to many customers. But for small businesses, it’s been deadly.
Since the start of the pandemic, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats have been contributing to the failure of small businesses by charging 20-30% commission fees on all orders — in other words, for every item a restaurant sells, these delivery companies take up to 30% of the total. This can add up when considering labor, food, and occupancy costs, combined with a decrease in customers during the pandemic. Here enters the irony of using Wayne and Garth, the anti-establishment duo, to sell this deadly “eat local” message.
“To me, the commission fees seem pretty excessive. 30% of each sale is a lot, especially for smaller restaurants that are already struggling,” said Danielle Fonsing (‘21).
That “eat local” commercial from @UberEats is mindnumbingly-brain dead. It’a a predatory service to small businesses that end up paying upwards of 30% of those ticket expenses to Uber (yes, on top of the fee the customer pays). They’re not helping; they’re holding them hostage.
— i’m here live, not a cat (@rjlawson07) February 14, 2021
When customers began to notice the toll of these commission fees, cities like San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Seattle tried to cap these commissions at 15%. But 15% is just as detrimental, as said by Phillip Foss, the owner of small restaurant Boxcar BBQ. If he earns a $30 check for selling a meal, a 15% commission from the delivery service would take $4.50 of that sale. When combining that with occupancy costs, or rent, that would take off another 20%. 60% is dedicated to food and labor costs. In the end, he would be left with $1.50 for a $30 sale. And that was with the theoretical 15% commission fee instead of the normal 30%.
Even if the 15% commission fee were to even slightly help businesses, the price would be paid elsewhere. According to a statement from DoorDash, “capping on the commissions makes services less affordable and accessible to customers, reducing sales for restaurants and earnings for Dashers [DoorDash employees] at a time when access to work is more important than ever.”
there aren't enough words to express my hatred for the uber eats eat local ads. I hate them with a burning passion.
— ness ^ↀᴥↀ^ (@nesstherat) February 12, 2021
And while it seems unfair of delivery companies to let either restaurants or consumers take the fall for these commission rates, it’s important to remember that these businesses are businesses, not charities. In fact, Uber Eats, since its startup in 2014, has yet to make a profit, even after lockdowns in 2020 made delivery services a primary source of meals.
“I use Uber Eats a couple times a month. While I think the 30% commission is unnecessary, at the end of the day it’s just business. Those drivers are also working jobs and need to get paid somehow,” said Meredith Nitchals (‘21).
The idea that Uber Eats, a parasitic app, has just rolled out the new tag phrase “Eat Local, Support Local” gives even my cynicism a run for its money.
— Patrick Radden Keefe (@praddenkeefe) February 8, 2021
Returning to the new “Eat Local” efforts from Uber Eats, the campaign promises a 0% commission rate for all pickup orders facilitated by Uber Eats. The problem is that very few consumers use Uber Eats’ pickup option — over 85% of all orders placed using UberEats are for delivery. If customers can instead place pickup orders directly with the restaurant without the added fees from Uber Eats — the old fashion way — who is this option truly helping?
Though Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub have been providing much-needed services for both businesses and consumers, it seems that there’s no way to keep these services running in a way that everybody wins.
“I use Uber Eats once or twice a week. I love it, and I feel like the 30% commission fee is understandable since I know Uber has to make a profit. It does take away from businesses, though. I think Uber Eats is something that each restaurant should carefully research before joining. It’s not designed to benefit every restaurant,” said Bryn Hall (’21).
Eat local. Order directly from the restaurant.
— Cristina (Travel For Wildlife) (@Travel4Wildlife) February 11, 2021
To truly help local businesses and to save money on delivery fees, consumers should circumvent delivery services by calling in orders directly to restaurants and picking up the food themselves without the third-party middleman, or by supporting restaurants that decline to use delivery apps. Although ordering online is convenient in a pandemic, there are many places in Tampa and across the US that are safely open for dine-in or take-out.
So enjoy local favorites, support small businesses, eat local. But remember that there’s other ways to do so. Despite Uber’s good messages, the campaign should be viewed as nothing more than a reputation remedy that will further destroy small businesses in a time when every penny counts. To do your part in reversing these damages, cut out the middleman and support local restaurants directly.