How To Support Restaurants Without Putting Food Delivery Workers At Risk

Restaurants across the country are closing to dine-in customers, either mandated to do so by city or state officials or self-selecting to shut down as a precaution in the COVID-19 crisis. Many eateries are shifting solely to takeout or delivery to keep their businesses afloat and serve the millions of people sheltering in place at home.

For consumers, ordering food delivery during a pandemic likely raises some ethical questions. How can you best support local restaurants struggling in these times? Is it safe to order food delivery when health officials emphasize limiting contact with others? Are you putting your own or anyone else’s health at risk when you get food delivered?

“I think all of those concerns are there,” said Ryan Palmer, a Minneapolis-based attorney who leads the restaurant legal team at Lathrop GPM. “I think the primary driver is a social responsibility and being a member of a community and just wanting to do your part to slow the spread of the virus.”

The coronavirus outbreak has heightened the demand for food delivery. Many restaurants are quickly adapting, with some adding delivery for the first time, cross-training employees to make deliveries and developing no-contact delivery solutions. And business owners are striving to keep customers safe, employees paid and bills current.

If you’re ordering food delivery, there are a few things you should consider about doing so safely and ethically, and how it’s all affecting the restaurant industry.

First, know that delivery alone can’t sustain most restaurants

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants’ off-premises sales, which include delivery and takeout, have been growing, said David Portalatin, food industry analyst at The NPD Group.

According to the National Restaurant Association, about 60% of all restaurant eating occasions are off-premises.

“There’s a lot of off-premise activity happening already,” Portalatin said. “So, the impact — it’s not as if all the business goes away from restaurants. It’s just the on-premise business. And, we would assume that some of that on-premise business will get converted to off-premise, because that’ll be consumers’ options. So, we’ll see.”

The list of restaurants forgoing on-premises dining continues to grow, and Portalatin said it’s too early to tell what the true impact on restaurants will be.

Despite the growth in delivery and takeout, Palmer said many restaurants were not designed to survive on a delivery business model alone.

“They’re doing it now because they’re in a business that is highly leveraged, so there’s lots of debt,” Palmer explained. “It has fixed costs that don’t go away. Everyone’s got a landlord, everyone’s got a lender, and those bills are going to come due at some point. And, that’s based on there being an on-premise site.”

Here’s what you can do to help.

1. When possible, order directly from restaurants instead of using third-party apps

Many restaurants use third-party delivery apps, like Uber Eats, Grubhub or others, to handle food delivery, and that cuts into their profits. Others have their own internal systems, and lately may be training wait staff and other workers to make deliveries.

Third-party delivery apps charge restaurants fees of up to 30% on orders.

When given the choice in how get food delivered, using a restaurant’s own system is the best way to support them directly, Palmer said.

Third-party delivery apps charge restaurants fees of up to 30% on orders. Though, Uber Eats said it would waive fees for independently owned restaurants though the pandemic.

“In a nutshell, that means the restaurant essentially makes no profit on deliveries,” said Giorgia Sinatra, brand manager at Italian restaurant and pasta shop Pasta Sisters in Culver City, California.

Still, many restaurants opt to use the apps to bring more visibility to their businesses and give consumers more options, and because it’s often the easiest setup for them, she said. Pasta Sisters tried launching its own delivery service before deciding to work with Postmates out of convenience, and it was able to negotiate a reduced commission fee in exchange for exclusive delivery rights.

“With the state of how things are right now, though, we are happy to offer and encourage doing delivery for those staying in and that don’t feel comfortable going out,” Sinatra said.

Health and safety is another issue to consider. Restaurants are highly regulated and safety conscious and continue to abide by those rules, but third-party delivery services may not adhere to the same strict food cleanliness and sterilization regulations, said Sam Marvin, owner and executive chef at Echo & Rig in Las Vegas and Sacramento and Pluck in Carlsbad, California.

“With restaurants, the health department visits three or four times a year,” Marvin said. “They check on our refrigeration, storage, temperature tools and more. If you order delivery and the restaurant doesn’t directly facilitate it, you could be receiving the food from someone who has just delivered to several other people or who isn’t monitoring his or her cleanliness.”

Marvin’s Pluck is currently offering delivery via third-party apps, with staff helping with takeout and curbside pickup. Echo & Rig is not offering delivery, instead focusing on sales through its butcher shop, though Marvin said he’s providing health insurance benefits for furloughed staff and guaranteeing jobs once it fully reopens.

2. Limit personal contact as much as possible

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes limiting in-person contact, staying six feet apart and not shaking hands to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The same rules apply for food delivery, and experts suggest avoiding or drastically limiting contact by ordering and paying for food delivery remotely, either by phone call or mobile system.

“For most people, this would require some really significant behavioral change,” Portalatin said. “But those are the behaviors that we’re growing, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see those behaviors accelerate during this time.”

Digital ordering has been driving the growth in off-premises restaurant traffic, growing 23% from 2015 to 2019, Portalatin said. But, it still accounts for a small number of restaurant orders.

As China dealt with the coronavirus outbreak, its delivery orders jumped more than 20%, Portalatin said, enabled by “contactless protocol,” which included ordering and paying remotely and consumers leaving instructions for where drivers could leave the food.

Ask delivery people to leave food outside your door to limit contact.

Ask delivery people to leave food outside your door to limit contact.

“We’re already seeing some restaurants that have promoted that saying, ‘Leave instructions for the driver or the delivery person on where to put the food,’” Portalatin said. “So, it wouldn’t surprise me to see some of those protocols start to come into play here.”

3. Tip way more than usual

In normal times, The Emily Post Institute recommends tipping 10% to 15% of the bill for food delivery and $2 to $5 for pizza delivery, all depending on the difficulty of the delivery. Ordering food delivery during a pandemic means you should tip even more if you can.

“Whatever you’re comfortable with, but I would say $5 extra for delivery right now,” Marvin said.

Lately, Palmer said he’s been tipping more than 20%, and he’s heard anecdotally that others are doing the same or even more.

And, if you’re tipping in cash, leave it in an envelope on your front door to avoid the contact of handing it directly to the delivery person.

A HuffPost Guide to Coronavirus

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