GrubHub adds Fort Collins restaurants to delivery without consent

Steven Sorensen, general manager and partner at The Farmhouse at Jessup Farm, got quite the surprise Friday night when a customer called to ask about the restaurant’s inclusion on GrubHub, a third-party food delivery service. 

“I thought you didn’t do that,” the customer asked. 

“We don’t,” Sorensen said. Or at least that’s what he thought. 

When Sorensen jumped on GrubHub’s app, he was surprised to find The Farmhouse listed, with an outdated menu, hours and prices.

“It was crazy,” Sorensen said. He had routinely declined offers to partner with GrubHub or similar services. “Our food is not designed for that app,” he said. “It’s designed to be enjoyed immediately in the restaurant.” 

The Farmhouse at Jessup Farm Artisan Village.

The Farmhouse at Jessup Farm Artisan Village. (Photo: Eliott Foust/For The Coloradoan)

The Farmhouse, it turns out, is among a host of local restaurants GrubHub added to its site without permission. Others include Union and Ginger and Baker.

GrubHub says that is common practice among other food-delivery services and it began doing it to remain competitive.

Like other national food-delivery services, GrubHub requires restaurants to be hyper-vigilant in monitoring the sites if they don’t want to be included.

Union co-owner Ty Fulcher said DoorDash added his restaurant to its app but removed it when asked. This week, Union showed up on GrubHub’s app without permission. 

“It’s so annoying,” Fulcher said after the Coloradoan notified him that Union was on GrubHub’s site. 

Old Town Restaurant Group co-owners Ryan Houdek, right, and Ty Fulcher pose for a portrait on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, at Union bar & soda fountain in Old Town Fort Collins, Colo.

Old Town Restaurant Group co-owners Ryan Houdek, right, and Ty Fulcher pose for a portrait on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, at Union bar & soda fountain in Old Town Fort Collins, Colo. (Photo: Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan)

Kate Cooper, director of marketing for Ginger and Baker, said they don’t offer delivery through any platform but suddenly showed up on GrubHub’s app, too.

The restaurant discovered it after two customers called to report a glitch in delivery times. Like The Farmhouse situation, Ginger and Baker’s menu posted on GrubHub was an old, off-season menu that was offering fresh summer produce in the middle of winter. 

When Ginger and Baker asked, GrubHub removed the restaurant from its site, Cooper said. The restaurant is exploring a delivery partnership but has not settled on any particular platform, Cooper said. 

 Adding restaurants without consultation became part of GrubHub’s strategy after third-quarter earnings saw a 43% drop in the app’s stock price. 

“Diners have come to expect the widest range of options as possible when they land on a food delivery marketplace,” GrubHub said in a statement. If they don’t find what they’re looking for on GrubHub, they’ll go to another service, the company said.

In the past, the app with 140,000 restaurants in more than 2,700 cities listed only restaurants with which they had partnership agreements, the statement said. 

“We still firmly believe this is the right way to build the marketplace and the only way to drive long-term value for diners, restaurants and drivers. But it also takes longer to build the network this way, and other food delivery companies have chosen to list non-partnered restaurants on their marketplaces for years to widen their supply of restaurants.”

In a letter to shareholders after its third-quarter earnings were released, GrubHub said it was trying the new strategy as a way to “close the restaurant supply gap and drive more delivery orders to local restaurants, as well as double the number of restaurants on our platform by the end of 2020.”

GrubHub adds popular restaurants in an area, pulling information such as menus, hours and prices off the internet and posting them without checking their accuracy. If the information is wrong, the onus is on the restaurant to contact GrubHub to get it fixed, the company said. “We work to provide accurate menus and hours for these restaurants on our marketplace based on available information online.”Get the Biz Beat newsletter in your inbox.

Restaurants that prefer not to be on the site or want to change information  “should reach out to us … and we’ll work as quickly as possible to make necessary updates or remove them,” the company said.

Sorensen worries the customer will have a bad experience if hours, prices and menus are incorrect on the app, if food is delivered cold or the order is wrong. Customers “can leave a review on the website and that negatively impacts the reputation of a local business,” he said. “That’s not OK. The opportunity for a good experience is being snatched away by a company whose goal is to not have people go into the restaurant but get food to go. It’s damaging to local business.” 

When Sorensen called GrubHub on Friday and Saturday and provided documentation that he had declined a partnership, the company agreed to “pause” deliveries, he said. On Monday, GrubHub told the Coloradoan that The Farmhouse was removed from its app on Saturday. 

The Farmhouse gets between five and 10 takeout orders on the weekend; it’s not a big part of its business, Sorensen said. He thinks “we caught this early … and it didn’t have a chance to impact our business.” 

NoCo Nosh, a Fort Collins food delivery service, does not add any restaurants that are not part of its network, said Michael Atkinson, director of operations. 

The service, started and owned by 40 local restaurants, delivers for 120 establishments, Atkinson said, and only includes eateries that have partnered with NoCo Nosh.

While GrubHub declined to say how many restaurants it added without permission, Atkinson said NoCo Nosh found 100 restaurants in Loveland, Fort Collins and Greeley were among recent additions. 

“Because we are owned by restaurants, we are charged with having more ethical practices because NoCo Nosh was formed in response to unethical … practices,” Atkinson said.