For food delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats, business is booming in Sonoma County
Tiffany Evergrace graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with a degree in culinary arts. She used that education to become a front-of-the-house manager at a nice restaurant in the Old Town neighborhood of Pasadena. It’s a background that ultimately led to her current job, which had Evergrace standing in front of Chick-Fil-A on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa on a drizzly Wednesday.
She now delivers food for DoorDash. She’s a Dasher.
“People get us in the comfort of their own home,” Evergrace said, summing up the service. “They don’t have to tip as much as in a restaurant, they don’t have to pay for a babysitter. It makes me happy that I’m making other people happy, but it also blows me away that I can make a living delivering food.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic triggered stay-at-home orders in Sonoma County and beyond, many businesses have gone into decline, radically changed their operating models or ground to a complete halt. But one, at least, is booming.
With restaurants not yet allowed to seat customers and a hungry populace suddenly wary of human contact, app-based delivery services like DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub have shifted into high gear.
“Our grocery delivery portion of the business has more than doubled since people sheltered in place. And as the weeks have gone on, I’d say our restaurant delivery business has more than doubled as well,” acknowledged Mark Urenda, the local owner of FoodJets, a franchise company that partners with Raley’s Supermarkets in addition to picking up hot food takeout orders.
The arrangement has proven to be a huge boon for the delivery companies and for consumers, who can enjoy a restaurant-quality meal without so much as donning an N95 mask. It’s more of a mixed blessing for restaurants, who are charged commissions as high as 30%, and drivers, who forfeit medical benefits and sick leave when they choose to work in the gig economy.
Like so much in our current lives, the transaction begins with the tap of a phone screen. If you have an app such as GrubHub or Postmates, you can search a list of available restaurants in the area, pick one and order right from the menu. The order goes directly to the restaurant, then to the screens of drivers like Evergrace, who can accept or reject individual pickup wages.
Not every dining establishment chooses to work with the tech services. For some, the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up.
“Our feeling was, when we got busy enough with deliveries, we’d buy our own rig and do it ourselves,” said Matt Spector, who owns Zoftig Eatery in east Santa Rosa. “That time hasn’t come yet for us.”
So Zoftig uses GrubHub and FoodJets to transport its food. In doing so, the Montgomery Drive restaurant agrees to pay GrubHub 30% of the money it generates from those deliveries, and to pay FoodJets 25%.
It’s worth it for many restaurants. They get a low-overhead method of delivering food and, in effect, a source of marketing. If you launch the GrubHub app in Santa Rosa, Zoftig will be among the options. Establishments that don’t partner with GrubHub will not.
“You don’t have to worry about schedules, insurance, workers comp (for the drivers),” said Gus Gutierrez, general manager of Los Tres Chiles, which uses several of the services. “If we don’t have the traffic from these different companies, how do we advertise? We have Facebook. But with the new generation, it’s through the apps. If we hire drivers, how many do I have to get? One? Two? Three? It has its cons and draws.”