Many tech companies are pivoting to manage the effects of COVID-19. Some are doing it better than others.

By Andrea Strong
Updated August 05, 2020
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Restaurants are taking a beating during this crisis. They're shuttering and laying off hundreds of thousands of workers. Those that can stay open are doing delivery and takeout orders, struggling to keep customers and employees safe with social distancing and contactless delivery and takeout. Grocers are also overwhelmed with shoppers packing aisles and forming long social distancing lines—with six feet or more between shoppers—that easily snake around city blocks and through suburban parking lots.

To help control crowds waiting for takeout and increase social distancing in grocery stores, reservations systems OpenTable and Resy are pivoting, allowing guests to reserve takeout meals and, in some cases, slots for grocery shopping.

This week, OpenTable—which serves 60,000 restaurants and 31 million diners worldwide—launched a new free reservation service to help manage overcrowding and long lines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A response to a 400% increase in usage of the OpenTable delivery and takeout functions in the last week, the new feature allows customers to plan their grocery trips, reserving shopping times in advance, or joining a waitlist at the door. Already, it's been adopted by many specialty grocery stores and restaurants with pop-up markets.

The new tech is free for both operators and consumers. Not only does it help control crowds in a simple, contactless way, but it also provides a safer option for shoppers, especially those at high risk, to get their groceries without waiting in a crowded line. To keep the flow of people moving as efficiently as possible, shoppers can also opt in to receive an alert via text or notification when it’s their turn to shop.

“In essence, we’ve rolled out the same reservation technology that nearly 60,000 restaurants have implemented and more than 31 million monthly diners use and love to retailers small and large,” said Joseph Essas, Chief Technology Officer, OpenTable. “With this, shoppers can reserve a time slot at either their local restaurant that has converted into a storefront or a local grocery store—avoiding long lines and the health risks associated with overcrowded public spaces.”

The new program has so far been adopted mostly on the West Coast at restaurants that are now acting as markets, including Belcampo in both ​Oakland​ and ​Santa Monica​, G​wen Butcher Shop & Restaurant​ in Los Angeles, ​PRAIRIE​ in San Francisco, and T​esse Restaurant​ in Los Angeles, as well as ​The Epicurean Trader​, a specialty grocery store in San Francisco. OpenTable hopes more restaurants and shops will sign up in the next few weeks.

OpenTable has also launched a ​Data Center on the State of Restaurant Industry​, which shows a year-to-year comparison of seated diners to help people track the impact of the pandemic. It has also created a Restaurant Resource Center, which restaurateurs can refer to for tips to help them navigate the crisis.

Other tech companies are pivoting to address the pandemic, as well. Resy is using its reservations ticketing feature to allow restaurants to package takeout meals for their guests to book online. Restaurants on Resy can fill out this form if they are interested in having their settings reconfigured so that customers can "book" a takeout meal option. Meal options—determined by the restaurant—are in the Resy reservations widget and can be viewed once a day/time/meal is selected.

Customers simply book a pick-up day, time, and number of portions for a given meal, and pay through the Resy platform. Restaurants can also offer options for donations, merchandise, gift cards, and more, so that diners have a clear and easy way to support their favorite restaurants.

Like OpenTable, Resy is not charging any fees to restaurants or consumers, outside of the credit card processing fees out of their control. Fees will be forgiven entirely for its restaurants between March 9 and May 9, at least according to the company’s representative. (Guides to restaurant takeout/delivery can be found on Resy.com and HERE and are being continuously updated.)

DoorDash is offering 30 days of commission-free delivery for new restaurants, removing commissions on pick-up orders, and reducing commissions for restaurants on DashPass, the company’s subscription service.

Grubhub is coming under fire for its new $100 million relief effort, which claims to suspend fees for struggling restaurants which Grubhub Founder and CEO Matt Maloney called “the lifeblood of our cities and feed our communities” in a statement.

But the “relief” program is not what it seems. The terms and conditions page shows it is actually only a short-term fee deferral program that applies to commission fees and not delivery or processing fees. Also, restaurants that apply and are granted the deferral will still pay other fees, including for delivery and order processing. The contract also stipulates that restaurants must stay on the Grubhub platform for at least one year.

Its model is disturbing to many in the restaurant community, including F&W restaurant editor Khushbu Shah, who wrote, "Now, with no dine-in business cash flow, the margins are getting even harder to swallow, especially when many of these delivery companies are worth hundreds of millions of dollars."

“Grubhub continues to exploit restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis with high fees and misleading business tactics, all while spending a lot of money on commercials to fool the public into thinking they are helping restaurants, which they are not,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Earlier this month, New York City Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Francisco Moya proposed legislation that would cap commissions at 10 percent and require disclosure of all fees that delivery companies charge restaurants, among other regulations that would help shift the balance of power back toward restaurants already operating on razor-thin margins.

“Other third-party companies have stepped up to support restaurants during this crisis, unfortunately the sector leader Grubhub, is not one of them,” continued Rigie. “Since Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio used their emergency powers to limit restaurant operations to only delivery and takeout, they must use these same powers to limit third-party delivery fees to no more than 10%, because the 15-30% that Grubhub takes from each order is unsustainable in a strong market, and during the COVID-19 crisis it’s unconscionable.”