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After Splitting Sales With Delivery Services, Restaurants Eager For Dine-In Customers

Mark Miller, owner, DeAngelo's

After becoming owner of DeAngelo's Italian Creole Restaurant, negative experiences with DoorDash led Mark Miller to partner with delivery services that were locally owned at the time. (Alex Paul, WTIU/WFIU News)

A global pandemic was not on Chris Francis’ radar when he signed his lease at 208 S. Dunn.  

After running a catering service in Bloomington for years, he was ready to open a restaurant in early 2020. But about two weeks after he signed the lease, the restaurant industry was flipped upside down. 

“We were dead in the water. And it took a few months of still paying rent and all utilities and everything but not making any money off of it,” Francis said. “And it came to a point to where we had to decide, ‘Ok, do we just bite the bullet and not do it? Or do we move forward?’”  

He had to figure out how to get his food out to the public when many people didn’t want to come inside. It didn’t help that The Chef’s Table is a one-man operation. 

He did not have the funds or manpower to deliver food. And his research showed delivery options didn’t make sense for a business his size.  

“Reading through all the contracts and talking to these people, when they would say 30 percent or 27 percent, the first thought I had was, ‘There's no way.’” 

National third-party delivery services like UberEats and DoorDash create a conundrum for many small restaurants. They have the name identification and ability to deliver food, but partnering with them is expensive. Contracts send up to 30 percent of each sale to the delivery service – not to your favorite eatery. And the profit margin for restaurants was already razor thin pre-pandemic. 

Chris Francis, owner, The Chef's Table
Chris Francis, owner of The Chef's Table, says third-party delivery services are generally more effective at helping grow a restaurant's brand than helping them grow financially. (Mitch Legan, WTIU/WFIU News)

“The delivery services are awesome, I don't want to bad mouth them,” Francis said. “But most of them aren’t user-friendly. Your business may pick up, you may see more sales – it's a good way to get money in, but in my opinion, you break even. It's just enough to keep you afloat.”  

Some of the tactics the companies use rub some restaurateurs the wrong way. Mark Miller became owner of DeAngelo’s Italian restaurant two years ago and was confused when he started getting calls from drivers taking the food to go.   

“First thought you're like, ‘Okay, well, it's a sale. Okay, we'll take it. We need the business just like anybody else,” Miller said.  

But after a couple months, the calls stopped coming in. 

“[I] start getting emails, phone calls: ‘Hey, this is DoorDash. Did you like having all the business that we sent your way? How about signing up?’” Miller said. “Signing up? Like, why? I mean, you were sending orders my way to begin with, why do I need to sign up for something now?” 

At the same time, the services provide a quick buck for people like Kaitlin Holt. She can hop in her car whenever she wants and make some money. 

“When the pandemic hit, I needed something to supplement my income at my full-time job. So I went ahead and looked into DoorDash because you can make your own hours and that kind of stuff,” she said.  

The services have only increased in popularity during the pandemic. The four major food delivery apps saw their business double in 2020. Especially in a college town like Bloomington, with its young, tech-savvy population, they’re here to stay. 

“We're creatures of habit,” Francis said. “It's easier for me to grab my cell phone, grab my computer, order food and not have to leave my house.” 

Francis and Miller are just two of the business owners around town who make Bloomington’s restaurant scene unique and wide-ranging. After a brutal year, they are among many people who hope warmer weather and increased vaccinations will lead people to choose the experience of dining out over the convenience of delivery. 

Have a story idea? Find Mitch on Twitter @ByMitchLegan or email him at mitlegan@iu.edu.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

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