On a cold and drizzly omicron Christmas Day in San Francisco, there was a spot of trouble at a Hayes Valley Chinese restaurant, with cooks frantically trying to catch up on orders, while delivery drivers idled and fumed outside. Lazy Susan got slammed with five times its usual volume of orders in the first 30 minutes of service, before being able to pull the kill switch on its third-party delivery apps, resulting in a large volume of canceled and wrong orders, the restaurant owner Hanson Li told Eater SF. “Chinese food on Christmas Day is a thing,” Li says. “We’re grateful for everyone coming to us, but we were not prepared for a deluge.”
To set the scene, Lazy Susan is a cool Chinese-American restaurant that’s less than a year old, and so was celebrating its first Christmas this past holiday season. The team had a couple of specials running through the month of December, both a Winter Solstice Feast and a collab with Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, which got hyped in Eater SF, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other media outlets. And despite the staffing issues plaguing restaurants these days, the restaurant was fully staffed for a busy night. Li says the team had a day off on Christmas Eve and came in fresh on Christmas Day.
But here’s where it went haywire: Lazy Susan is only open for takeout and delivery right now, and the restaurant relies on two different third-party delivery apps, DoorDash and Uber Eats. Li says they flipped on the apps at 5 p.m., and within the first 30 minutes, got slammed with five times the number of orders usually spread across an entire Saturday night. Li says the way the caps the apps are supposed to have in place work, they’re set at 15-minute increments, and somehow the restaurant was not able to shut down incoming orders fast enough. “We were inundated,” Li says. “Unlike a restaurant that can turn people away, we just got killed.”
Michael Lieberman is a local lawyer, who after a long drive back from Tahoe, was trying to order Chinese food on Christmas Day, “as Jews do,” he says via email. Lieberman says he placed an order on DoorDash at 5:30 p.m., which was supposed to arrive in 45 minutes. But then he received several notifications that his order was getting assigned to different drivers, and after two hours of waiting, around 7:30 p.m., DoorDash canceled his order entirely. Still hungry, he drove across town to Lazy Susan, where he encountered a queue of about 15 drivers lined up outside and stacks of orders on the counter. The staff apologized and remade his order, and Lieberman says he did tip generously, even though the experience put a damper on the festive spirit. “We had Christmas dinner at 10 p.m.,” Lieberman says. “It was not a Hallmark Christmas.”
Lieberman says some of the DoorDash delivery drivers were visibly fed up with waiting, and the staff remarked that some drivers started grabbing wrong orders. Li would not go so far as to put any fault on the drivers, but he confirmed that the restaurant received complaints about wrong orders and canceled orders — though he can’t tell who hit cancel, whether it was DoorDash or the diner. A representative for DoorDash corroborated a large number of canceled orders, says it seems to be an isolated incident at Lazy Susan, and the company is investigating further. Ultimately, both the restaurant and the diner were left puzzling, wondering how a technical snafu and surge of this magnitude could happen, and whether it was, as Silicon Valley loves to say, an issue with the algorithm. “We have a cap,” Li says. “I’m still not sure why it was exceeded so quickly. There should have been a trigger.” “I don’t know,” Lieberman echoes. “It seems like the restaurant should have a kill switch.”
Of course, Chinese delivery is a popular option on Christmas Day, and it may have been even more appealing this year, given the context of both a rainy day and a new variant. It also may have been a unique confluence of factors at Lazy Susan, in that it was a buzzy new restaurant. But checking in with a couple of other Chinese restaurants around town, while they say they fared better with the apps over the holidays — they also were not surprised. George Chen of China Live says that on Christmas Eve 2021 he did good delivery business, but he had a similar issue on Chinese New Year’s Eve last year when his kitchen got slammed with 350 orders. “There were tickets dropping on floor,” Chen says, who estimates he had to refund 20 percent of people. Likewise, Brandon Jew says Mamahuhu was very busy on Christmas Eve, but he’s learned how to limit and mitigate issues, advising his managers to shut down the apps earlier than they might think. “There’s a learning curve, for sure. It’s hard to control,” Jew says. “When things start feeling like they’re about to hit the fan, we’ve learned to pull the switch earlier.”
On behalf of the restaurant, Li also says “it was a learning experience.” They appreciate everyone’s patience, and they’ll be ready for next Christmas. For the upcoming Chinese New Year, the restaurant is planning to do more set menus and preorders, so they can better plan and control the flow. “The one thing that still vexes me is that when orders come through third-party delivery apps, there’s no way for us to apologize afterwards,” he says. “Which as a restaurateur, it pains me. We need to work together with the apps, to address that simple hospitality issue.”
And don’t worry: Lieberman was able to settle the matter to his satisfaction. Upon cancellation, DoorDash offered him nothing. On first complaint, customer support offered him a $50 credit. But after a later exchange, customer support finally offered him the curiously specific amount of $187. “In the spirit of Christmas, that resolved the case,” Lieberman says. Though he’s planning to cook his own dinner on Christmas next year.