As It Happens

Why this Toronto restaurateur is creating an alternative to delivery apps

A Toronto pizza shop owner wants to build an alternative to the delivery app services that he says are gouging restaurateurs and their own employees. 

Roger Yang says 3rd-party companies are 'exploitative both to the restaurants and to the workers'

Roger Yang, owner of Pizzeria Du in Toronto, says third-party delivery apps are too expensive and depersonalized. (Christina Vick-Kell)


A Toronto pizza shop owner wants to build an alternative to the delivery app services that he says are gouging restaurateurs and their own employees. 

Roger Yang, owner of Pizzeria Du, says he has become so frustrated with the high costs and poor service from third-party companies that he's teaming up with other local restaurants to run their own delivery system. 

"Delivery was already becoming a bigger thing and the pandemic kind of accelerated that and it made it blindingly obvious that delivery is super important," Yang told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"In the long term, we're still going to do a lot of delivery and we'll need to have solutions that make it work for the restaurants. Otherwise, we risk a slow death."

Yang's story was first reported by the Toronto Star. 

'We were just handing our customers over to Uber'

Yang says apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and SkipTheDishes take a huge bite out of restaurants' profits and offer little in return.

These companies charge restaurants service and delivery fees of up to 30 per cent for each meal, on top of the fees they charge directly to customers. 

Pizzeria Du first started using Uber Eats this year to keep up with the demand for delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Yang says he's gotten very little bang for his buck. 

"We expected that they would help with marketing and they would help us get new customers. But what we found was that we were just handing our customers over to Uber," he said.

What's more, he says the orders were often mangled during the delivery process, with pizzas turned on their sides. 

But Yang doesn't blame the drivers and cyclists for the botched deliveries. He says a big part of the problem is that they are gig workers with dangerous jobs who are paid on a per-delivery basis.

Asked for comment, Uber Eats said it's been "an important option" for the food industry during the pandemic, and outlined several measures it's made to cut costs for independently owned restaurants.

"For restaurants open during this evolving health crisis, third party platforms like Uber Eats can be an important option to help generate revenue," the company said in an emailed statement.

"Exposure to a greater customer audience, promotional campaigns to increase demand, and a streamlined order and payment processing system are just some of the features we provide that our restaurants rely on."

A restaurant-run co-operative model 

Starting last Friday, Pizzeria Du began offering in-house curbside delivery with a hired driver and cyclist, both of whom will receive insurance and hourly salaries, Yang said.

He says he's in talks with several other local restaurants to pool their resources, hire more delivery drivers and split the costs.

Companies like UberEats charge service fees to restaurants and underpay their employees, says a Toronto pizzeria owner. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

"The challenge with a small business doing our own delivery is that we don't have enough scale to really do it really efficiently," he said. 

The business, he says, would run like a co-operative.

"We've got a number of other restaurants that have strong interests," he said. "Everyone who uses the delivery apps complains about them."

With restaurant-employed staff, Yang says customers will also benefit from a more personalized service.

"I've been doing some of the deliveries myself, and I find that just having that quick hello, even though we're keeping our distance, the customers appreciate it so much," he said.

Alternatives springing up 

It's an idea that's springing up elsewhere too. Earlier this month, Montreal entrepreneur Mansib Rahman told CBC Radio's The Sunday Edition about Radish, the local delivery co-op he founded with a similar goal of upending the third-party model dominated by big players like Uber Eats. 

In B.C., web developer Jeremy Buhler created a free, centralized delivery app for local restaurants to use instead of the usual companies.

"Mobile apps are highly underappreciated and underutilized technology right now, because historically ... apps are only for the big players," he told CBC News in April.

Delivery app companies have responded to the growing concern from restaurant owners during the pandemic. 

DoorDash slashed commission fees by 50 per cent for local restaurants during the month of May, while Uber is waiving all delivery fees on orders over $20 from independent restaurants for the duration of the pandemic. 

Uber says it's also waiving new activation fees, and has founded a relief fund for struggling restaurants. 

But Yang says these are just a small portion of the overall costs to restaurants, and in the long run, using these services remains unsustainable. 

"I'd like to see them completely replaced. I think they're exploitative both to the restaurants and to the workers," he said.

"And I think that there is enough margin, based on what we've seen, to be able to pay people properly, to have the right kind of working conditions and to have it be at a reasonable cost to restaurants."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now