Originally, like many food delivery apps, GrubHub operated through contracts with interested businesses. A business owner or franchisee could choose to be listed and do business with the app, or they could decline. And many did decline, not liking the way delivery apps take the quality of customer service so far out of their hands.

But in late 2019, GrubHub rolled out a new policy that took that choice out of the hands of the restaurateurs.

“Starting in late 2019 in select cities across the country, we’ll add restaurants to our marketplace when we see local diner demand for delivery so the restaurants can receive more orders and revenue from deliveries completed by our drivers,” said a spokesperson for the app, adding that other delivery companies have begun doing the same thing.

“Local diner demand” doesn’t have a defined source, but it’s a reasonable guess that they’ve been collecting data on which unlisted restaurants customers search for and how often. The statement makes the policy change sound altruistic, as if they are doing this for the benefit of the restaurants, but some owners feel like this is a massive overreach.

For instance, Jeff Spencer, the owner of eatery Just Jeff’s in Columbia, Missouri, specifically declined a contract with GrubHub only weeks before they decided to list him anyway, supposedly due to customer demand. The immediate result, rather than increased revenue, was increased customer complaints due to GrubHub delivery drivers mishandling food, mostly by showing up as much as 45 minutes late to pick up orders, meaning customers received them over an hour after they were cooked and plated.

“It’s infuriating,” said Jeff. “I feel like they pirated my business… Those are my customers. Those are the customers that I want to make sure have the best experience every time that they come. I don’t think, in any way shape and form, they should be able to practice business like this.”

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