As pandemic eases, restaurants want diners to put apps aside

Business By Megan Jacobo, Reporter Thursday, May 20, 2021

Shop Local is more than a slogan in Miami Lakes. It’s a way of life.

There are six shopping centers and the Main Street commercial district in town, filled with many family-owned businesses that residents support.

A segment of that business community – some owners of the town’s more than 65 restaurants – want customers to come directly to them rather than relying on cellphone apps to place orders and request deliveries.

The restaurants have a love-hate relationship with the apps – UberEats, Postmates (owned by Uber), DoorDash and Grubhub. The technology helped connect customers to eateries during the coronavirus pandemic, when people huddled at home and restaurant kitchens were open for take-out, but dining rooms were closed or empty of customers.

“If it weren’t for the delivery apps, we would have seen a lot more restaurants in South Florida close,” said Manny Cid, mayor of Miami Lakes and a co-owner of Mayor’s Cafe in the Royal Oaks Plaza shopping center. “They kept us alive.”

But staying alive came with a price, an up to 30 percent fee that cuts into slim restaurant profits.

Gloria Rodriguez, who owns Pizza Scene restaurant with her husband Hector Rodriguez, urges customers to order directly with them.

Otherwise, they pass along fees to the diners who use the apps by charging more on those orders.

“You can help our community, the Pizza Scene community, by shopping directly with us, instead of using a third-party company,” Rodriguez said.

To afford the app fees, Pizza Scene’s prices on food that arrives via delivery services are 30 percent higher, Rodriguez said.

But by buying pizza pies and other items directly from the restaurant, “You will not only save up to 30 percent but you will also be helping us keep our doors open,” Rodriguez said.

Pizza Scene, at 6725 Main St. also offers their own delivery service, with no minimum purchase.

Other restaurants in town say they balance
the benefits of the apps that steer diners their way with the costs of using the services.

Beverly Hills Café Manager Maria Camp says UberEats saved their business during the beginning months of the pandemic.

“Almost all our sales were directly through UberEats,” Camp said. “They have a wide net and reach so many people.”

But Camp says that exposure to customers comes with a cost and that a delivery service’s cut from each sale can eat away at profits on orders that may be for a salad or a burger and fries.

Camp hopes that customers feel safer now and will order directly through the café.

Patrons have returned to the café’s dining room, the counter and outdoor tables.

During lunch on weekdays the restaurant, at 7321 Miami Lakes Drive, offers delivery as well as takeout.

At Shula’s 2 Steak & Sports, General Manager Bruce Lawrence said customers drive the restaurant’s app use.

“UberEats and Postmates takes a big part of the profit, but we have to use them,” Lawrence said. “DoorDash takes a little less, I think 25 percent.

“We do a lot of business with the delivery apps, so we have to keep offering it,” he said.

Esmeralda Prieto, manager at Salsa Fiesta on Main Street, also credits UberEats for a lot of the Mexican restaurant’s business.

Like Pizza Scene, Prieto said Salsa Fiesta raised prices on orders received from the apps to cover the cost of the fees.

“You can always order from our website, which is cheaper than third party apps,” Prieto said. “Our prices are higher on apps and we don’t offer every single menu item.”

Items exclusive to the restaurant include its queso dip and street corn.

Through the restaurant website, they also offer delivery.

Uber spokesman Javi Correoso said in 2020, from March through the end of the summer, the company waived food delivery fees for independent and small restaurants in South Florida.

He said not all restaurants pay a 30 percent fee, and that factors that go into their rates include whether a business uses its own delivery person, or customers order on the app and pick up their own food, for a very small fee.

That fee scale applies to PostMates customers too, Correoso said.

DoorDash in April said it was offering a tiered pricing plan for merchants.

Their Storefront plan includes no fees except for credit card processing; 6 percent for orders that are picked up and 15-30 percent fees, depending upon marketing and other services restaurants sign up for.

Grubhub announced
 on May 12th that its new Grubhub Direct platform will allow restaurants to develop their own websites to accept commission-free orders, market to diners and have access to customer data.

Restaurants can save money by using the town’s Freebee ride service to deliver orders to customers.

“We were using it a lot at the beginning but it’s kind of died down now,” said Sabrina Seferlis, vice president of Gerardo’s Marketplace. “It’s a great concept and people should take advantage of it.”

Despite the potentially high costs that may come with the apps, Cid “loves” them and said the expense is worth it to bring diners to Mayor’s Cafe.

“People can say whatever they want about the apps, but without them you wouldn’t have gotten that customer, so it doesn’t matter if you’re paying a 30 percent fee,” Cid said.

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