Grubhub strategy

A screenshot of Grubhub's homepage using a Champaign ZIP code.

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URBANA — More than a week ago, diners looking through the food-delivery service Grubhub suddenly had dozens of new options in the Champaign-Urbana area.

But it was news to the restaurants, whose owners weren’t aware they’d been added to the popular app and hadn’t signed agreements.

“It’s a lose-lose situation,” said Ben Manns, owner of Bunny’s Tavern in Urbana. “Delivery drivers are showing up saying they’re here to pick up an order.”

Unlike restaurants Grubhub partners with — and takes a commission from — Bunny’s doesn’t have a tablet to alert it to new online orders.

So when a driver arrives, the order has to be started then, and the driver — and customer — have to wait.

On top of that, Grubhub included outdated menus with outdated prices for some restaurants, so some drivers show up without enough to pay for the full order.

The menu for Bunny’s on Grubhub is four years old, Manns said.

The driver then has to remove items to get the price down to what’s been authorized, Manns said.

“So when the customer gets the order, they’re missing items and blaming the restaurants,” Manns said.

Restaurants can also refuse to make the order, which Bunny’s is doing, Manns said, but that also angers customers because “they placed an order and are not getting their food.”

Hickory River in Urbana was also added to Grubhub without its consent, franchisee Mike Madigan said.

“So far, it’s not been a big hassle, but we have determined that they have several mistakes on the menu that they posted. There’s pricing mistakes,” Madigan said. “Also, they have us selling Coke instead of Pepsi. There’s definitely the potential for unhappy customers.”

Madigan said he fears customers will experience “long waits and inaccurate orders” and blame Hickory River instead of Grubhub.

Manns said he spoke with an attorney and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Grubhub, but hasn’t received a response.

After The News-Gazette contacted Grubhub about the new listings, it took down the listing for Bunny’s.

“Bunny’s Tavern has been removed from our marketplace as of February 14,” the company said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Jenna DeMarco.

After this article was posted, it also took down the listing for Hickory River.

Grubhub doesn’t deny that it added dozens of restaurants without their consent and argues that doing so helps bring in customers.

“Starting in late 2019 in select cities across the country, we’ll add restaurants to our marketplace when we see local diner demand for delivery so the restaurant can receive more orders and revenue from deliveries completed by our drivers,” the company’s statement said.

Grubhub takes the menus from “available information online,” the statement said.

It also said it started listing non-partner restaurants because its competitors do the same thing.

“As other food-delivery companies have chosen to list non-partnered restaurants on their marketplaces for years to widen their supply of restaurants, we’re now trying this strategy in select markets as a way to close the restaurant-supply gap and drive more delivery orders to local restaurants,” the statement said. “We’re aiming to convert these non-partnered restaurants to partnered restaurants.”

Madigan said he recognizes the need for the service but isn’t a fan of the aggressive tactics.

“Third-party delivery is absolutely going to be a growing part of the restaurant market. We all understand that,” he said. “But it would be really helpful if these folks would be a little less aggressive and a little more diplomatic. … Come in and make a presentation to the business. Make a formal partnership everyone can live with.”