Coronavirus

Forget the app: Why Miami restaurants want you to order delivery from them, not Uber Eats

Ani Meinhold is taking orders, cooking meals, packing them to go — and now, the Miami restaurant owner is delivering them, as well.

Meinhold, who owns the MiMo Vietnamese-Cajun restaurant Phuc Yea with her partner, is among a wave of battered South Florida restaurant owners who have had to layoff most of their staff as restaurant dining rooms were ordered shut to control the spread of the coronavirus.

And now, as they struggle to stay afloat with takeout, they are delivering their own food as third-party companies such as Uber Eats, Postmates and GrubHub are still charging restaurants 30 percent on every order for their delivery service.

“The delivery companies are outrageous right now,” Meinhold said. “It’s either this or closing.”

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On Monday, Uber announces its delivery app would not charge diners to use the service. But it continues to charge restaurants, anecdotally between 25-35 percent from each order, to be listed on its app, according to several local owners. Grubhub will defer its fees, but restaurants must pay them back later, a spokesman said.

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“We know the coming weeks will be challenging for many small business owners, and we want to help restaurants focus on food, not finances,” Uber Eats wrote the Miami Herald in an email statement. “We considered a number of options, and are focused on driving demand towards independent restaurants on Uber Eats, to help make up for the significant slowdown of in-restaurant dining.”

Several South Florida restaurants say that is not enough — and they are returning to a time before delivery apps.

They are taking orders by phone, and many are redesigning their websites to take orders online, with the option for their in-house deliveries. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Friday allowing licensed restaurants to deliver beer and wine in sealed containers.

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Their plea to diners: Call them or look for them online. If a favorite restaurant is not listed on an app, do not assume they are closed.

“How long can you be quarantined eating out of a can of tuna?” said Javier Ramirez, owner of Miami restaurants Bachour, in Coral Gables, and Palmar in Wynwood.

Ramirez asked the company that runs his restaurants’ websites and in-store sales, Toast, to add a delivery option for their entire menus online. They were able to add the feature in a matter of minutes, he said.

Now, from the staff that had been laid off, he has been able to hire a former line cook and a server to deliver orders. The $10 delivery fee also goes directly to the driver.

“They can’t make the same amount of money as before. But their income doesn’t get completely cut off,” Ramirez said. “If someone makes 10 deliveries a day, that’s $100 a day, $500 a week…. For the time being, we’re going to try to make this work. People got to eat.”

Pubbelly Sushi and La Placita chef-owner José Mendín said his restaurants will be taking orders as of Saturday at their website PubbellyGlobal.com. They called their insurance companies to add a rider to cover its drivers — a necessary step for restaurants to remain insured, he said. They are hiring three drivers per shift to deliver meals.

“We have to do what we can to keep our people employed,” he said.

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Restaurants in Coconut Grove have a novel option.

The free electric shuttles Grove residents used to ride into the main business district, Freebee, are being used to deliver restaurant orders to residents in the Grove’s 33133 zip code for free. Diners call the restaurants with their orders and the restaurant orders the Freebee to drop off the meals.

Freebee was able to write new software and put the Groves’ four electric cars into delivery mode on Wednesday.

“We are trying to be as creative as possible and find solutions to support our businesses,” said Abigael Mahony, executive director of the Coconut Grove business improvement district, who worked on the deal with the chairman, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell.

Meanwhile, many restaurants have continued to be listed with the major third-party delivery companies for fear that customers will forget about them or think they have closed.

“We can’t boycott them. People are already used to using them,” Pubbelly’s Mendín said.

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But they hope customers will remember the old pizza and Chinese food delivery examples from what feels like so long ago. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has created a massive database of South Florida restaurants that are open and offering delivery and takeout. Locals can get in touch with the restaurants directly.

Meinhold, whose restaurant went from 25 employees to five overnight, says it’s their only option to stay in business.

“If the numbers don’t add up,” she said, “we can’t keep going.”

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