How do you make a living as a restaurant that’s now wholly dependent on takeout and delivery as your sole source of revenue — especially when third-party delivery apps like Grubhub and DoorDash are taking a big chunk out of every transaction? That seems to be the million-dollar question these days, and both restaurants and assorted Good Samaritans have scrambled to come up with solutions, whether it be deploying a fleet of bike messengers or, say, launching a one-man volunteer delivery service for San Francisco Chinatown.
In North Beach, it’s the longstanding neighborhood association, North Beach Neighbors, that has stepped up: For each of the past two weeks, the association has picked a single restaurant in the neighborhood to support and to highlight, and a small team of volunteers has run a free delivery service for that restaurant for several hours.
“We’d been hearing about some of the concerns with margins on delivery,” Danny Sauter, president of North Beach Neighbors (and also a candidate for District 3 Supervisor), tells Eater SF. “Even when you thought you were supporting a restaurant by ordering takeout, that’s often a pretty small margin” — particularly once you factor in the commissions and other assorted fees that the third-party apps charge for delivery service.
During the first week of the program, Piazza Pellegrini, one of the neighborhood’s many Italian restaurants, was the featured restaurant. According to Sauter, the restaurant made an extra $1,000 as a result of the effort — money that came from extra orders it received thanks to North Beach Neighbors sending out an email blast that included an online form where customers could place their orders. Since volunteers ran all of those deliveries — limited to within a two-mile radius — all of that money went directly to the restaurant.
“In these hard times, paying delivery fees, marketing fees, and all those fees that [the delivery apps] charge — they’re not sustainable, that’s for sure,” says Dario Hadjian, Piazza Pellegrini’s owner. He estimates that if that $1,000 in orders had gone through the delivery apps, the restaurant probably would have only gotten half of that amount. Part of that is because customers gave tips — and if they tip through the apps, the restaurant and its staff don’t receive any of that money.
The neighborhood association’s volunteer service is a feel-good effort — but also obviously one that doesn’t solve the deeper problem of restaurants’ dependence on third-party apps. After all, the volunteer-run deliveries were only for a single day, and even that day, Piazza Pellegrini still had to take orders through the apps as well. “The fact of the matter is we are stuck with them,” Hadjian says.
That said, to help lessen his restaurant’s dependence on delivery, Hadjian says he’s working on setting up online ordering for the restaurant, and he eventually plans to rehire one of his former employees to serve as an in-house delivery driver, at least for a few hours each day.
In the meantime North Beach Neighbors plans to continue its efforts over the course of the shelter in place. Last week, the volunteers ran deliveries for Noren Izakaya, a Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood, which got 40 additional orders out of the promotion. This week, they’re doing a Mother’s Day special to highlight three more small businesses: deliveries of breakfast (from Pat’s Cafe), coffee (from Hole in the Wall Coffee), and flowers (from Polk Street Florist). If you live within a couple of miles of North Beach, you can place your orders here.