When San Francisco-based Postmates opened for business in the Sacramento market on Aug. 13, it was touted in some quarters as the ultimate consumer-as-king enterprise.
The headline-grabbing delivery services company operating in more than 75 U.S. cities and backed by tens of millions in venture capital funding offers the option of delivering practically anything to a local resident’s door within an hour of ordering via a computer or mobile app. Utilizing local couriers, Postmates also touts its ability to deliver menu items from a selection of local restaurants that offer takeout, everything from fast-food fare to exotic fine-dining creations.
Postmates spokeswoman April Conyers said orders from the Postmates “general store” – anything from mouthwash to bagged snacks to laundry detergent typically bought at local stores – have been brisk. Delivery fees start at $5 and go up to $15 for larger orders.
However, some local restaurants are not happy with Postmates. The disgruntled Sacramento restaurateurs said they did not sign up for the program and can’t opt out of it. Concerned about proper food handling and the possible delivery of hour-old food to consumers, some restaurants are refusing to take Postmates’ orders, threatening legal action or asking to be removed from the site. Restaurants have also taken to Facebook and other social media to air their complaints.
Operators of Mother at 1023 K St., and South at 2005 11th St., in Sacramento, immediately voiced a litany of worries. Primary among them: The restaurants had no prior warning that they would be put on the Postmates site, and they have no control over how couriers handle their food.
“We weren’t involved in the process in any way. We were just suddenly there,” said Ryan Donahue, a business partner with Michael and Lisa Thiemann in Mother and the soon-to-open Empress Tavern in Sacramento. “One of our biggest concerns is we take our food very seriously. It’s meant to be consumed when it’s prepared, not when it’s an hour old. With (Postmates), we don’t know how long it takes them to deliver food, or how they’re handling it.”
N’Gina and Ian Kavookjian, co-owners of South, which touts its fried chicken and other Southern food specialties, were likewise surprised and upset.
“Food quality is so important, and a second-party vendor picking up our food and representing us to customers is a big problem,” said N’Gina Kavookjian. “We have no chance to say what the food quality is and what it should be. We have no control of the quality when it gets there. Has it been jostled or sitting under a stack of orders? We don’t know.”
Kavookjian also is incensed that South’s listing on Postmates also copied, without prior consent, the South logo and restaurant images.
The local restaurateurs also complain that Postmates couriers are not licensed to handle food. And, Postmates couriers get customer tips that restaurant workers might otherwise be pocketing.
Donahue said Mother has responded by refusing to take orders if they know they are being placed by Postmates workers. South is advising customers not to use Postmates, has threatened legal action and N’Gina Kavookjian said she has received assurance from a Postmates regional representative that South will be taken off the site.
However, Donahue says that “Postmates won’t let you opt out … I think they’re pretty well lawyered up and know what they can and can’t do.”
Postmates spokeswoman Conyers said Postmates typically compiles a list of merchants via the Foursquare app, and customers also list specific preferences, which means that restaurants can end up on its list having not been contacted in advance. This also is a departure from other online food-ordering sites such as Chicago-based GrubHub, which typically has a business arrangement with restaurants.
The company, co-founded by Sam Street, Sean Plaice and Bastian Lehmann in 2011, has portrayed itself as local-boosting alternative to Amazon, with community businesses raking in proceeds from sales to local consumers.
“We have a partnership with the customers. … We’re an extension of the customer, the same as if you spent to have your sister or your friend pick something up on your behalf,” Conyers said.
Conyers said Postmates couriers carry containers capable of preserving the temperatures of hot and cold food.
When restaurants do complain, Conyers said, “we make every effort to work with them. … Once merchants talk with us, most of them embrace us, because it drives more revenue, and they can serve more customers.”
She said Postmates also is willing to work with restaurants to limit its deliveries to specific items on their menus.
Conyers said Postmates will remove a merchant from its site if disagreements cannot be resolved. Overall, Conyers said the reaction to Postmates in Sacramento, “so far has been incredible,” although she said she did not have numbers in hand.
Kavookjian says she cannot envision ever working with Postmates.
“The foundation is so rocky. It didn’t start from a place of trust,” Kavookjian said. “And you still have people who don’t know anything about food, handling food.”