By Joy Bergmann
When ordering in via an online portal like Seamless, who is responsible for the behavior of the delivery guy? The restaurant? Seamless? Like many relationships spawned by the digital age, it’s complicated. So learned the CB7 Business & Consumer Issues Committee at its Wednesday night meeting.
Attorney Meagan Jaglowski from GrubHub, parent company of Seamless, responded to concerns sparked by a recent confrontation Committee co-chair George Zeppenfeldt-Cestero had with a delivery person not wearing an identifying vest, but carrying bags emblazoned with the Seamless logo. Delivery bicyclists have to wear vests with the names of their restaurants on the back (like the one at right), so if they break rules their employers can be held responsible.
Jaglowski said that – up until very recently – restaurants that signed up with online ordering systems like Grubhub would be responsible for finding and managing their own delivery people. GrubHub might provide restaurants with logo-laden bags and vests as marketing giveaways, she said, but, “it’s discretionary for [restaurants] to adopt them.”
But Jaglowski said GrubHub is modifying its NYC business model and offering its own team of delivery people to be used by restaurants who do not wish to manage cyclists. Because such GrubHub cyclists would serve multiple restaurants, a particular restaurant would not be identified on their vests.
Zeppenfeldt-Cestero said CB7 has helped pioneer the DOT rules governing commercial cyclists, including the rule that they identify the restaurant they work for on their vest. “We were ahead of the curve on these issues,” he said.
Emphasis on “were.” The rules were adopted in 2012, a veritable Stone Age in the new “gig economy” typified by Door Dash and distinguished by the relationship such services have with their delivery drivers and cyclists: independent contractors, not employees.
Committee co-chair Michele Parker read an email from DOT confirming that, “Seamless [GrubHub] does not have to put restaurants’ names on their vests.”
According to a GrubHub media rep, nothing forbids its contractors from simultaneously logging into several services they might choose to deliver for, setting up a scenario where one delivery guy may make runs for Caviar, Door Dash and Seamless in a given hour.
Board members emphasized the need for GrubHub and others to find a way to visually ID their delivery independent contractors. “We’re not trying to put anyone in harm’s way,” said Jaglowski.
Several local restaurateurs said online ordering had been a boon to their businesses. Safety remains a concern and customers have a role to play, said Michele Casadei Massari from Piccolo Café, “We have to be more understanding as consumers and quit demanding dinner in 15 minutes.”
By the end, Luca Di Pietro appeared undecided about offering delivery from his Taralucci E Vino, asking the million-dollar question, “So who’s liable?”
Given the litigation surrounding Uber drivers’ classification as employees under California law, but independent contractors elsewhere, we non-lawyers at WSR are taking the 5th on that one.