Sauce Magazine – A year into the pandemic, the face of food delivery in St. Louis is still changing

A year into the pandemic, the face of food delivery in St. Louis is still changing

For many people, delivering food meant Chinese or pizza. Most of the other meals required eating out, or at least leaving the house to pick up food. But with the pandemic limiting the ways diners can visit their favorite spots, many restaurants have switched to takeout, including some that have never served it before. Now restaurants are grappling with an unprecedented number of take-out orders, which can mean paying astronomical fees to delivery services that charge up to 30% commission for managing orders and deliveries. While some local restaurants have found silver lining in the services that offer apps like Grubhub and DoorDash, others have looked for their own solutions, including a locally-based delivery app that offers a greener and, for some, more financially sustainable option.

Nudo House previously used a delivery service called Skip the Dishes, which was consolidated into Grubhub in 2019 in the US markets. When the new partnership proved unsatisfactory, Nudo House switched to Postmates. “What didn’t we like [GrubHub] We chose Postmates, ”said Chris Ladley, General Manager of Nudo House. Between the two Nudo House locations and the sister restaurant Mai Lee, the restaurants were able to take a little break from fees. “They are still taking money from us, but it is a necessary evil,” he said. Nudo House’s Delmar location has had over 70% of its revenue from fulfillment and delivery lately, which means a lot of orders come in through Postmates. Keeping commission as low as possible is a major priority for most restaurants, especially now that many people are eating out less. “The food margins are already low anyway,” emphasized Ladley. “And then to give [GrubHub] 30% discount for someone who might deliver your food in a timely manner? “That didn’t work at Nudo House.

Your problems with Grubhub went beyond the fees; Ladley said the ordering process was a headache and left little room for customer interaction, which is a problem when it comes to something like a food allergy or a spontaneous menu change. “We’d get a call from a call center in another country that was placing the order and if we had questions about a change we couldn’t get in touch with the customer,” he said. “Postmates has a better user interface, although it’s still not great.” On the plus side, Postmates allows restaurants to contact customers with questions and issues.

Even so, Postmates leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to giving customers the opportunity to say thank you directly to the restaurant they order from. “We allow tips, but not postmates. So when you order [through Postmates]You can’t tip the restaurant, ”Ladley said. “Our tips are distributed among the entire staff. You’re not just tipping the person placing your order. There are many people. “When you tip on the delivery app, it goes straight to the driver, and given the other fees (delivery charges, taxes, etc.), people are often less likely to tip drivers well so no one wins (except of course the app itself), so Ladley urges customers to call Nudo House directly and order so they can count on fast service – “You will never wait more than seven minutes for your food [when you call]”He said – and can contact the restaurant directly in the event of problems or errors.” I understand that it is more convenient [to order online]but I would still prefer people to call us or come in. It is more economical for everyone to withdraw this third party, ”he explained.

Some local restaurants have chosen to bypass the apps entirely by starting their own delivery services. The Maplewood hotspot Elmwood offered upscale cuisine for grilling before the pandemic, but has temporarily developed into a take-away pizzeria (with changing specials from old times). Elmwood co-owner and general manager Chris Kelling said they had never considered looking for a delivery service anywhere else. “Our goal is to keep jobs and income in-house,” he said. “And after a 20-minute drive home, you can’t guarantee the quality of the product. We wanted to have as much control as possible. “By monitoring the pizza from the oven to the customer’s doorstep, we can ensure that the pizza arrives intact and in a timely manner.

To get the delivery going, Kelling hired two more people to help with the drive. The Elmwood pizza delivery program offers slots every 15 minutes. Two rotating drivers turn off the delivery of cakes to customers within ten kilometers of the restaurant. A $ 3 delivery fee goes straight to drivers, while tips at the checkout are shared among the entire team to ensure everyone gets a piece of the pie. It was a good step for Elmwood to go their own way so they can focus on taking care of their team while developing their pizza program (and incredible branding) at the same time.

Melanie Meyer, the soloist behind the Korean-inspired Tiny Chef restaurant (in the Silver Ballroom), decided at the beginning of the pandemic to offer no delivery at all. Her decision was confirmed last week during a bizarre interaction with a random delivery person who showed up to pick up food that was not on their menu. “They don’t even ask if you want to be there – they just throw whatever they think you’re there,” said Meyer, laughing. “The menu was actually for a Silver Ballroom in Utah or something. [The app] took her menu and put it on our menu. You didn’t ask. “She said the app not only misunderstood the menu, it never tried to confirm anything. You can imagine her surprise when a driver showed up to her restaurant (before it was even open for service) and tried To order “cookies and gravy, ranch wrap and chicken tenders” – dishes she had never done before.

Meyer quickly points out that the problem was the app, not the driver. “She was super great,” admitted Meyer. “She said, ‘I actually want to come back here as a customer!’” However, Nudo House’s Ladley is more skeptical of the drivers, indicating that many of them are overburdened and therefore prone to rushing around and confusing their orders. “Lots of drivers [work for] Several spots: Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, ”he explained. “Your bag could have flown around in your trunk while driving around for an hour.” Ultimately, wrong orders and long waits are a bad reflection of the restaurant, even if it’s not their fault. “When people have problems with Postmates, they call and want a refund,” said Ladley, who cannot issue refunds on Postmates orders. “I do not have the money. I’ll get paid for your order in two weeks, ”he said.

Even so, Meyer is open to offering a delivery one day. “I would like to, but I would like to do it independently,” she said. “I don’t want to do this through a third party. I remember the fees they use, how annoying they are, how rude they are. “In the meantime, it will continue to focus on takeout and eventually offer more outdoor seating outside of the Silver Ballroom.

Many restaurants in the Central West End and downtown have taken a different route to offering delivery by signing up with Food Pedaler, a local, bike-powered service owned and operated by Alex Ward. Food Pedaler recently celebrated its eighth anniversary and over the years has expanded its team to include around 10 cyclists who offer lunch and dinner to residents in their delivery zones. Finally, Ward said he wants to expand his coverage to Tower Grove and The Loop, which means South City residents may be able to get the coveted nightly gramophone sandwich without leaving their homes.

With the influx of deliveries over the past year, Food Pedaler was in a prime position to do additional business. “We lost a few restaurants to the pandemic, but we added a few, and some of them are St. Louis staples like Juniper, Salt + Smoke, and Edera (Italian Eatery),” said Ward. “I am proud that we survived and that we are fine.” Some of their other biggest customers are Pickles Deli, El Burro Loco, Rasoi, Rosalitas Cantina, and Pie Guy Pizza; For their recent anniversary, they offered menu collaborations with places like Hello Juice and Smoothie and The Cup.

Food Pedaler is carried out via an app in which customers can order in the restaurants of their choice. and while the service aims to keep things local and sustainable, it charges like any other delivery app. Ward understands that for some restaurants such costs make their service unattainable. However, he endeavors to make it as accessible as possible and to give discounts to restaurants that are members of GiftAMeal and the Green Dining Alliance. “We want to work with every restaurant that can work with us, and we definitely don’t want to limit the profit margin. We’re working out ways to make sure they benefit from our partnership, ”he said.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has put local restaurants in a difficult spot. Organizations forced into new modes of service like execution and delivery have had to balance the loss of control and revenue against the time and resources required to work alone. All of these choices have pros and cons, but what ultimately matters is that restaurants and their communities help each other stay afloat, despite a pandemic that has changed the status quo. Regardless of how diners get their food, the fact that they still show up at their favorite spots is a big deal and helps a good part of the industry survive. Even so, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to keep things local.

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