"Durham residents are rallying en masse to support their local eateries, which is excellent..."
Shop local. Support local. These calls to action are resonating with the public more than ever during this time when the economic survival of our communities, as we know them, depends on all of us. It is unfortunate (though not surprising) that restaurants and dining establishments are so significantly impacted by COVID-19. Many restaurants in our Downtowns of Durham rely not only on exceptional food and customer service, but also on their charming or convenient locations. In the interest of public health and safety, however, many of our downtown restaurants have had to shut down their dine-in operations for the time being.
At least there is delivery and takeout, right? Several establishments that have managed to stay open have experienced a significant influx of takeout and delivery orders placed through popular delivery apps. It appears that Durham residents are rallying en masse to support their local eateries, which is excellent.
But… is it?
The truth about the apps
There is no denying the beauty of our downtowns in the Region of Durham. We’ve got fabulous restaurants, many of them independent and family-owned or locally franchised. They line our historic main streets as beacons for good food, good times, and good memories and add to the overall livability of our communities. Of course we want to support them and do what we can to make sure they are still here when the pandemic is past us, and we can dine in once more.
So off to the apps we go to place our orders for dinner: Uber Eats, Skip the Dishes, Door Dash, Grub Hub—we have a seemingly endless number of choices to find a delivery service that will bring us our favourite downtown eats. Their apps are slick, well-designed and convenient. Supporting local has never been easier.
But hold the boat. It may all be too good to be true. After all, slick comes at a cost, and it is those same beloved local eateries that we’re trying to support who are hit hard with the bill at the end of the day. Those integrated menus, real-time update features and delivery trackers are fantastic features, but they don’t come cheap. Not only are restaurants paying a one-time fee to join, but they are also paying up to 30% commission on each order.
Take a second to think about that. Think about your favourite spot in Downtown Bowmanville, Pickering Nautical Village or picturesque Port Perry. Imagine the restaurant, the ambience, the enjoyment you get from travelling into your downtown to have a great night out. Now think about a 30% hit for an industry where profit margins are already razor-thin.
Of course, these apps were well-received when they were first introduced before the pandemic. Back when we were able to travel to our downtowns to enjoy an in-eatery experience, having that same eatery available at your fingertips was an excellent option for patronizing our favourite restaurants until next time we could make it back for a dine-in visit. Sure it was a hit on each order for the operators, but the benefit of being seen and remembered encouraged diners to continue to come.
Currently, however, with COVID-19 measures dictating that most meals that aren’t home-cooked need to be takeout or delivery, it has become glaringly apparent that the pervasive model of third-party delivery is not sustainable or is, at best, a double-edged sword.
“It doesn’t make sense,” says Heather, manager at The Brooklin Pub in Downtown Brooklin. “But then again, when the name and the food is getting out there, that’s the underlying force, I guess. Of course, we would much prefer people in Brooklin to call and come in; in a perfect world, they would pick up. But at the same time, we are seeing addresses in Oshawa and Courtice. Obviously, those are people that wouldn’t drive to pick up the food because they’re farther away.”
This sentiment is shared by a restaurant owner in Downtown Oshawa (who requested his name not be used as he does not want to upset the app companies).
“For my customers who come in to order from me, I can maybe put a little bit more into their dishes because I do not have to lose 30% of each order to commission. I might even consider offering a discount on these orders. But with the commission and with the fee to set up—it’s too much. I want to be generous, but we are a small restaurant.”
Clearly, we can be the difference for our downtown eateries— once we are informed about what the difference is. For those of us who are local to our downtown districts, calling our favourite restaurants directly and arranging curbside pickup or takeout is a small thing we can do to help our establishments survive and even thrive. This knowledge is out there. Patrons should at least be aware that the apps are costly and their support is better offered through direct ordering.
“Locals do call,” Heather from The Brooklin Pub says. “We still have regulars. There are families in the area who, every Friday, call and pickup up their meals. They tell us that they want to support us and that they know the apps are costly for us. So people are aware.”
There are also Facebook groups such as Restaurants in Oshawa, Whitby, Clarington Offering Take-out and Delivery, dedicated to supporting local by ordering direct from the restaurant. One popular group, Durham Region Eats, has even gained national attention.
“An Ajax, Ont. man says he was tired of seeing restaurants paying high commission to food delivery service companies as patios and dining rooms sat empty during the COVID-19 pandemic,” reports iHeartRadio.
Page founder and moderator Eric Novak says, “‘By sharing this information, we are going to work around those 20 percent to 30 percent losses restaurants have to pay in commissions because they need every dollar they can get.’”
Restaurants, too, are beginning to look at ways they can skip the delivery commissions and fees. The Old Newcastle House in Downtown Newcastle, for example, has an online order option integrated into its website that allows customers to place orders directly and pick them up at the back window of the building. This feature supports the effort to limit contact while encouraging customers to come directly to the restaurant.
In addition to all of its menu items being available for takeout, KB Food in Whitby has developed special takeout dinners for two or four people to encourage its patrons to enjoy their signature “celebration of food.”
Support Local: Order your takeout direct
Do you love your local Downtown of Durham? Do you want to see it survive COVID-19 and come back not just as good as before, but better? The actions we take today will determine what our beautiful downtowns look like tomorrow. It’s fair to say that most of us value the inclusion of great restaurants as part of our downtowns and surrounding areas. If we want to be able to enjoy these establishments once quarantine measures have lifted, it is our responsibility to do what we can to support these operators.
The best way to support them is to go directly to the source—order direct and pick your meal up!
NOTE: At the time of publishing, Durham Region is in a province-wide shutdown with extensive measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Residents are encouraged to stay at home with exception of essential trips, wash hands frequently, wear a mask and physically distance from others.
We continue to publish these stories to encourage you to explore these businesses and communities online and through social media. When possible, please order for safe curbside pick-up if offered, and prepare to explore these areas once they are able to safely reopen.