Grubhub’s ‘Free’ Lunch Program Was a Disaster for Restaurant Workers

Amanda Silberling, TechCrunch:

Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. [on May 17], New Yorkers could use a Grubhub promo code to get a $15 discount on lunch. Naturally, restaurants got flooded with an unexpected deluge of orders. According to Buzzfeed, a worker at a Mexican restaurant in Harlem hand-delivered orders herself via Uber, since their in-house delivery driver was too overloaded. An employee at Greenberg’s Bagels in Brooklyn also told Buzzfeed that they received 50 orders in an hour, whereas they typically receive about 10 orders from Grubhub per day.

Across New York City, Grubhub said that it received about 6,000 orders per minute. Within an hour, some users tweeted that the promo code was no longer working, or that restaurants had marked themselves closed to avoid receiving any more orders. All in all, many orders got delayed and/or cancelled, but restaurant workers and delivery drivers were most adversely impacted, struggling to fulfill orders at an impossible rate.

Grubhub says it told restaurant owners about this promotion, but some said they had no idea. Local blogs promoted the deal last week and indicated it was a limited-time and limited-quantity order. But that does not mean restaurants were prepared for this scale — and neither was Grubhub.

Luke Fortney, Eater:

“Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., all hell broke loose,” says Max Zumwalt, chef of Hana House, a forthcoming Korean food hall at Borough Hall. The two-story operation, which is currently open for takeout and delivery ahead of its full opening this year, typically receives between 40 and 50 lunch orders on a normal Tuesday afternoon. Yesterday, it received more than 100 in the first 20 minutes of the promotion.


For some restaurants, more orders didn’t necessarily mean more money. “Even though it was our busiest day ever, we made less money,” Zumwalt says. The Hana House chef says the restaurant’s average order size dropped by about $10, with most people placing orders of $15 or less to make use of the promotion, while he had to refund roughly 15 customers for orders he had already prepared due to technical difficulties on the delivery app.

The tense relationship between delivery app companies and restaurants, where a portion of an order’s value is taken by the company in exchange for providing delivery services, only makes sense for the restaurant if the delivery app upholds its end of the deal. That is, like, Grubhub’s one job and is still unprofitable. On Tuesday, it flunked hard when it ran this promotion. Restaurants scrambled to prepare food for it to sit in the window without a driver to pick it up.

Grubhub surely knew this promotion was causing chaos as it unfolded. It could have restricted orders using the promo code; it already said this was a limited-quantity offer. It could have better-prepared restaurant owners. But Gruhub let this thing unfold in a way that treats restaurants as interchangeable and disposable components of its business instead of the only reason anyone uses the company’s apps. And let us not forget the people who struggled most on Tuesday: underpaid restaurant staff and drivers blamed for late or undelivered food.