Cash-strapped restaurant owners struggling to balance their books amid a pandemic that has decimated business served lawmakers with a dire warning Tuesday: act now to end to “predatory” delivery fees and provide relief or stand by and watch thousands close their doors for good.
“We’re on borrowed time. We’re here because we can’t wait any longer. Time is running out. … Winter is coming,” said Jody Adams, owner of Porto, Trade and Saloniki in Boston and Cambridge.
Clad in aprons and chefs’ coats, nearly two dozen members of Massachusetts Restaurants United gathered at the State House to warn lawmakers that many of the already dwindling number of restaurants won’t survive the winter without help.
“Without restaurants, neighborhoods are left empty of culture and character, filled with boarded-up storefronts. Gathering places are gone, jobs are gone, livelihoods are gone and people are gone. This is already happening in our communities,” Adams said.
A sweeping economic development bill includes grant money for distressed local restaurants and would cap the fees delivery apps could charge at 15% — down from the “predatory 20% to 30%” Adams said most pay now — until 45 days after the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency ends.
Restaurants are operating at a fraction of their usual capacity to adhere to social distancing and as the business model has flipped from dine-in to take-out, service fees from companies like GrubHub, UberEats, Postmates and DoorDash cut into whatever slim profits they might make.
Restaurateur Jonathan Mendez told the Herald he paid 28% — about $10,300 — of the $36,000 he earned on deliveries last month at one of his six restaurants to third-party businesses. Some “quick back of the envelope math” tells him he’d save about $5,000 should the legislature act.
“That pays for a salaried manager, pays rent, pays my food purchases for a week. It’s real dollars put to real use in our community, not to a tech company that’s just seen its revenues swell at our expense,” Mendez said.
Delivery apps, however, are pushing back on the bill and others like it. A DoorDash spokesman called fee caps “a form of price-fixing that can have unintended consequences that ultimately harm merchants, Dashers and consumers.”
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association estimates roughly 21% of the 16,000 restaurants operating pre-pandemic have already permanently shuttered.
Every day many more wonder whether it’s even worth opening the door, said Cheryl Straughter, who owns Soleil in Nubian Square.
Straughter said she’s seen her business nosedive as much as 50% to 70% a day.
“We provide jobs for the community, we invest in our community,” she said. “Some of us standing here today … are deciding whether or not we remain open.”