What a post COVID-19 world could look like
TORONTO — When the weekend rolls around, Torontonians won't have to miss the White Lily Diner's thick-cut bacon, organic corn grits and toast smeared in rhubarb hibiscus jam just because the country has plunged into a pandemic.
The east-end diner is selling its brunch staples and offering to drop them at customers' doors, but the process won't involve any of the familiar delivery apps whose couriers have become a fixture on busy streets in recent years.
Instead of relying on Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes or DoorDash, White Lily is using a new entrant to the market: Tock To Go.
"The biggest draw off the bat was probably just the fact that they're so much less expensive," said White Lily co-owner Ashley Lloyd, who laid off her entire staff when she closed the restaurant to dine-in meals amid COVID-19.
"Restaurant margins are slim...I can understand people turning to (their delivery competitors), but honestly I don't know how they do it."
Tock To Go is part of a new wave of food delivery companies hitting the Canadian market, hoping to attract vendors with features like lower commissions and fill the hole Foodora will leave behind when it shutters its Canadian operations in mid-May.
The services -- Ottawa's Love Local Delivery, Vancouver's From To, Toronto's volunteer-run iRover and new delivery features on Montreal's Eva -- have been created to help out in a tough moment, when restaurants are barely scraping by -- even as demand for food delivery surges.
These services want to do things differently from the household names, so they have eliminated commission fees or offered rates well below the 10- to 30-per cent charged by Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes, DoorDash and others.
Tock To Go, a Chicago-based service from restaurateur Nick Kokonas that evolved from his Tock reservation system, only takes a 3 per cent commission from restaurants in Vancouver and Toronto.
Tock first appeared in the cities in 2018, but didn't launch Tock to Go until the pandemic started. Tock to Go doesn't have couriers to deliver meals. Instead, it asks customers to pre-order food, helping restaurants arrange their own delivery.
"Ordering apps take up to 20 to 30 (per cent), which simply is not sustainable for restaurants," Tock's director of marketing Kyle Welter said in an email.
"Tock allows each restaurant to specify the number of orders for any set time range, so the kitchen doesn't get overwhelmed and they can responsibly manage the flow of customers."
Over in B.C., Brandon Grossutti from Gastown restaurant Pidgin will launch From To, a delivery service with a handful of Vancouver eateries, in May.
In the weeks before restaurants in Canada closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, Grossutti realized Pidgin would need a takeout option, so he signed up with Uber Eats and Burnaby-based Fantuan Delivery.
"Then the reality of it hit. We did fairly well gross wise, but you see the checks coming in and...the first week was a lot of money out the door in commissions," said Grossutti, who had to lay off workers.
"It's a weirdly parasitic relationship where you have a parasite basically eating its hosts until it dies and it's not a sustainable relationship."
Grossutti decided to put his software industry background to work. He made From To, which gives restaurants the ability to decide if they want to pay for, split with or pass on customers' delivery costs.
From To currently takes no commission.
"We had talked at certain points about taking like 5 per cent, which would be much less than what's out there, but we realized that during this time we need to make this sustainable because people are already losing money," Grossutti said.
The lower commissions don't seem to have bothered rivals.
"We welcome new competitors to the market, as it raises awareness of the industry and promotes even more traffic to restaurants to stimulate growth," Winnipeg-bred SkipTheDishes said in an email to The Canadian Press.
"It is natural for competitors to see value in this market and we're confident in Skip's position as Canada's homegrown food delivery company."
SkipTheDishes is offering a 10.5 per cent commission deal to restaurants wanting to do their own deliveries but still use the platform and is expediting payments to all businesses using its services.
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Uber Eats is eliminating its fees on pickup orders and reducing its usual 30 per cent charges to 15 per cent for restaurants who choose to use their own delivery people.
DoorDash, also headquartered in San Francisco, is waiving April commission fees for new, independent clients. Existing independent clients can have those fees waived on pickup orders, and 100,000 clients were added to DashPass — its subscription program which offers $0 delivery for consumers — for free.
Harriet Clunie, the executive chef at European-style bistro Das Lokal, said that is not enough because the moves put the onus on restaurateurs to offset costs or hire their own delivery staff to take advantage of benefits.
She banded together with other members of the Ottawa restaurant community to found Love Local Delivery, a service that launched in March and will courier food within 5 kilometres of restaurants for a flat $5 fee, or more for longer distances.
There are no commission fees right now and the service focuses solely on independently-owned restaurants.
While it might have to charge commission when it launches an app in the near future, Clunie said the service is committed to keeping that potential fee low.
"It's all people that are in the same boat and we're trying to help everybody that's struggling, restaurants or small businesses or drivers that are unemployed and just trying to make some money to feed the family," she said.
"It's an approach that's really trying to lift everybody up."