Restaurants plan blackout day on Waitr platform in response to company’s new terms

At least 20 restaurant owners in Acadiana plan to protest Waitr’s new “performance-based rate structure” by boycotting the delivery platform Sunday.

They said they’re hoping other restaurants and customers will join them in not using the app or website for one day. They’re hoping a noticeable loss of revenue will demonstrate to Waitr how dependent it is on the restaurants it partners with.

“We want them to know they need us,” said Zee Baloch, who owns Hot Food Express and is leading the effort. “Meet us in the middle. We’re not saying to go back to 3 percent, but they’re taking the rights away from us. What’s going to be next? We’re paying the driver’s wage? We want them to know how we feel. We want this to be fair.”

…It’s especially jarring for those who still remember Waitr as a small tech company known for helping local restaurants instead of the publicly traded company that sold for $308 million.

Waitr stands by the new plan.

…There’s been more push back from restaurant owners in Waitr’s older markets like Lake Charles and Lafayette, which originally had a 3.5% commission and 55 cent charge for every order. Rates have steadily increased over the past four years.

Waitr currently takes between 15% and 25% commission on every order for restaurants in all markets, Queen said.

Mitch Rotolo, founder and chief executive officer of Rotolo’s Pizzeria, exclusively partnered with Waitr at its 20 restaurants in south Louisiana prior to the controversy. But now, he said the company has opened the door to any delivery business that wants to come in.

“We’re very concerned about Waitr changing their fee structure,” Rotolo said. “If their model requires more revenue, they need to ask the customer to pay more for the service, instead of going back to the vendor and squeezing them. That’s unfair.”

But restaurateurs aren’t just upset about the new commission structure. They’re particularly vocal about the tone and terms of the new contract.

The new terms prohibit restaurants from charging a higher price for food ordered through Waitr than regular, in-restaurant transactions and passes along the fees charged by credit card companies to the restaurants. It also prohibits restaurants from using photos taken by Waitr for any purpose.

Before, restaurant owners were free to pass on some of the expense to customers by increasing their menu prices on the Waitr platform. Restaurants didn’t have to pay the credit card fees, and they were also free to use Waitr’s images of their food for their own promotional purposes.

…Several restaurant owners, including those who plan to take part in Sunday’s protest, declined to comment for this story for fear of legal action that could result from their discussion of the terms of the new contract. Some are consulting attorneys. Others are terminating their agreements with Waitr.

“A lot of people are counting on me,” Baloch said. “They’re counting on me to speak up because I’m not impacted as much. A lot of people won’t say anything because they’re smaller. They’re thanking me for standing up for them. I can speak up more because we have the sales.”

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