Georgette Powell, Owner of Mel’s Fish Shack
Two and half months ago, the idea of quarantine and mandatory stay-at-home orders was far from anyone’s mind, especially mine. As the head of Mel’s Fish Shack which has been in the South LA community for nearly 40 years, you’d think I’d have seen it all. Yet, somehow coronavirus found a way to catch us all off guard and forced us to look at our world through a new lens.
Since coronavirus, we’ve had to hire more people to manage social distancing, curbside delivery and to handle the onslaught demand overall. To help keep up with the high demand, we’ve had to heavily rely on food delivery apps like DoorDash, Postmates, UberEats, GrubHub and ChowNow, to help keep up with the orders.
Things were starting to make sense again and then the City Council introduced a motion that would put a 15% cap on fees food delivery apps charge restaurants. While I certainly understand the intentions of our local representatives, I can’t say that a rate cap will help. While we are paying these fees, it’s a matter of survival and it’s trifold. The fees help us to meet the demand for food, our seniors and community who are shut in during the mandatory stay-at-home order. It also helps to keep our employees working and prevents layoffs. The price we pay is more of a sacrifice to provide options to our customers who need our services and for their senior parents who live in our neighborhood and can’t get out.
With reduced revenue from the rate cap, delivery app companies might be forced to compensate by cutting services, lowering drivers’ pay or increasing the fees paid by diners. That isn’t a risk I’m willing to take.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t want to see these fees go up, but I realize there’s a cost for these services that has helped us keep our doors open during a pandemic crisis and to serve an even broader audience. We can’t afford to become like New York or San Francisco who are currently dealing with their own rate cap laws. Just to give a glimpse, Uber has stopped delivery to a portion of San Francisco and taxed customers more. GrubHub reported a 10% drop in restaurant orders. Must we really play with something as essential as food? South LA is already considered a food desert and healthy food options are already limited. The community heavily relies on us to feed their families and loved ones.
We honestly couldn’t take on the liability of offering delivery if we were to do it alone. We need the food delivery apps as our partners and not our enemies. So how can we find a common ground? It’s time for us all to come to the table, possibly over a meal, and figure out what will be the best for all.
The swift pace that the Council has taken to move this law along has left out key voices. Not just the restaurants but the delivery drivers and customers who are both so vital to this fragile
ecosystem. Many customers who are considered to have a compromised immune system rely on these delivery apps not just for food but medicine. Understanding how important that order is, customers often tip their delivery drivers for the risk they’re taking each time. These tips and overall wages help people keep their bills paid while we see the unemployment rate skyrocket to historical numbers.
There is no need to rush this process, we need to create a viable solution. It’s possible for this to be a win-win situation where our “new normal” benefits everyone including the restaurants, customers, delivery drivers and the app. This should be a democratic process; no decision should be made until all sides are considered. We need to make sure that we get this right the first time because so much depends on it.