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NYC Council must help small restaurants and vulnerable workers

As a longtime civil rights leader in New York City, I’m familiar with so many equity issues in our underrepresented neighborhoods. I recently learned of one issue, however, that is affecting our brothers and sisters in the restaurant industry at this very moment and that the City Council has the power to fix—quickly. The restaurant delivery service fee cap is hurting our smallest restaurants and should be fixed.

The COVID pandemic mercilessly hurt all our vulnerable communities, but small restaurants and their low-wage workers may have been hurt the most. Both owners and workers suffered when restaurants were shuttered. Things improved when restaurants re-opened for outdoor dining and delivery, and now the City is finally open for indoor dining—but many places have fewer tables and are still struggling.

When times were most challenging, restaurants hastily embraced delivery by partnering with services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats. Many were concerned that delivery giants would overcharge desperate, community-based businesses, so the City Council acted quickly to protect them.

Like many cities nationwide, the Council passed an emergency law limiting delivery charges. It was intended to help small restaurants and their workers, but now we know that the fee cap backfired and actually hurt our community restaurants and their workers.

In many cities, the delivery fee cap was tiered to help small restaurants the most and ensure large, expensive, and chain restaurants did not benefit disproportionately as big companies always do. In contrast, New York City’s fee cap applied equally to all restaurants, so it didn’t boost small restaurants as it should have.

Another problem with the fee cap is that it didn’t cap only delivery fees—it also limited the amount of marketing services and support that small restaurants can buy from delivery apps. Most of us don’t realize that delivery services do much more than deliver meals. They also help small restaurants with affordable email-marketing, website design, ordering software, and in-app promotions. These are most important to the smallest restaurants that cannot afford expensive advertising and agencies like chain restaurants, and that need the pay-per-order marketing options that delivery companies offer.

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