Well-meaning consumers are unknowingly lining the pockets of big companies when they order takeaway food from their local restaurants, further starving businesses when they need customer support most.
As restrictions and lockdowns continue around the country, Australians have sought to help out their neighbourhood businesses – one of the most common ways has been turning off the stove and ordering takeaway for dinner through the myriad food delivery apps.
At the top of the chain are Uber Eats, Menulog and Deliveroo, who are commonly referred to in the industry as the big three.
Drivers’ unions and the hospitality industry are urging consumers to think twice about using these platforms, especially as Melbourne trudges through Stage 4 restrictions.
“They’re robbing us, and consumers aren’t even aware,” said Chrissie Maus, general manager of the Chapel Street Precinct Association in Melbourne.
Hospitality businesses have always operated on a thin margin (anywhere between 3 and 10 per cent) and it’s common for these platforms to take a 35 per cent commission, making a huge dent in a business’s bottom line.
It’s easy for consumers to think they’re doing the right thing for businesses when they order through one of these apps, Ms Maus said – there’s even an option to throw in a tip.
Then, behind the speedily delivered meal is a driver who could be experiencing a payment cut of up to 40 per cent, as well as insecure work conditions.
“Riders and drivers continue to experience appalling abuses at the hands of food delivery companies – and the pandemic has made matters worse,” Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine said.
Mr Kaine said none of the food delivery services offered a minimum wage for drivers or riders, urging the federal government to intervene and regulate the industry.
As the country’s largest retail precinct association, Ms Maus said Chapel Street as a collective decided to take deliveries into its own hands and away from the major platforms.
The 2.8-kilometre shopping strip has been converted into the world’s longest drive-through with 300 businesses on board.
Ms Maus said ordering directly through businesses, wherever in the country you are, means you know where your money is going.
“This is the hail Mary now, you’ve got to support the locals or it’s over,” she told TND.
“It’s as dire as that.”
It’s a difficult landscape for consumers to navigate Macquarie University ethics chair Jana Bowden said – we’re being forced to think about the weighty impacts of our spending.
“It’s a conundrum. On the one hand, given the economic crisis meal delivery companies are giving staff much-needed jobs and income,” Dr Bowden said.
“On the other hand by using these services we are paying workers to risk their health. Suddenly a seemingly simple delivered pizza becomes a complicated moral equation.”
Unfortunately there’s no easy answers, she said. It’s just a matter of informing yourself.
Who does what
Not everyone will be able to order what they want, when they want – we get it.
To help you make an informed decision about which food delivery platform you choose to support, we asked the Transport Workers Union to give us a brief rundown of how they think each of the big five have behaved during the pandemic.
We also asked the platforms to tell us what they’ve implemented.
Riders and drivers report UberEats has traditionally been among the lowest paying of the companies, Mr Kaine told TND.
“In the last six weeks (it has) has slashed rates dramatically, with riders/drivers reporting a 20 to 40 per cent drop in delivery rates,” he said.
We didn’t hear back from Uber Eats, but you can read a statement on the website here about its commitments during the pandemic.
The Amazon-owned Deliveroo says it has introduced contactless pick-up and delivery, and provided hand sanitiser and masks for all drivers, as well as a $20 one-off rebate for Victorian drivers to buy a face mask of their choosing. But Mr Kaine has reported this is somewhat limited in practice.
It also fast-tracked its payment method for restaurants from fortnightly, to within one day. More from the company is here.
Mr Kaine says Menulog’s riders work rosters, like most employees – but they aren’t afforded superannuation, sick leave or annual leave.
However, Menulog told The New Daily it’s offering financial support payments to any riders who become ill or need to self-isolate during the pandemic.
Just this week, it announced it will foot the delivery fee bill for customers ordering during Melbourne’s curfew hours.
The US-owned platform has also agreed to provide financial support to riders who test positive, need to self-isolate or are in a high-risk category.
It also halved its restaurant commissions in April.
We didn’t hear back from EASI, but it has long been accused of putting rider safety (it’s a bicycle-based delivery service) at risk.