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Cottage Grove restaurant struggles with unwanted 3rd party delivery service

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UPDATE (WKOW) -- Grubhub has removed a local restaurant from its marketplace after 27 News reported the food delivery service and app was using a menu linked to the business without their knowledge.

The Black Bear Inn in Cottage Grove says people were using Grubhub to place orders through the app.

That led to canceled orders and bad reviews before owners finally figured out what was going on.

After the 27 News aired a story Wednesday on their plight, a Grubhub spokesperson said the restaurant was no longer on its marketplace as of today.

Grubhub also dropped Salvatore's, a local business with several restaurant locations in the Madison area, that had run into a similar problem.

In a social media post, Salvatore's says it started charging Grubhub a $50 "service fee," which got the company to take the old menu down.

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COTTAGE GROVE (WKOW) -- Just like every other restaurant, the pandemic has been hard on The Black Bear Inn.

Almost a year in, business is still down 50 to 65 percent.

"Winters are always hard, and we expect to struggle through every winter, but this one has added struggles," said manager Kate DeRosa, whose family has owned the restaurant for decades.

But DeRosa is also dealing with an unexpected challenge right now.

"Grubhub has been probably the biggest pain that I've had the entire pandemic, honestly," she told 27 News.

A few months ago, DeRosa says she realized something was awry, when several customers called in trying to order fried green tomatoes...a dish they've never served.

"I asked them, you know, 'are you sure you want the Black Bear Inn, in Cottage Grove? We're 320 West Cottage Grove Road.' And they repeated the address back and they're like, 'yep, I'm looking at your menu right now.' And I'm like, but that's not our menu," she said.

It's led to canceled orders and confusion -- and even some bad reviews when they haven't been able to talk to customers directly, if a Grubhub delivery driver handles the entire order.

"Partially, I feel like we're being cheated in the middle of the pandemic and kicking us when we're down kind of thing, but I really feel like it's kicking the people who are trying to help us survive right now," DeRosa said.

Black Bear Inn is not alone. Salvatore's, a local business with several restaurant locations in the Madison area, posted on social media last week about a similar instance of Grubhub posting an old menu, with dishes that aren't current.

The business tried to order its own pizzas and found Grubhub charged almost $25 more than if it had been purchased directly through Salvatore's. In the post, Salvatore's says it started charging Grubhub a $50 "service fee", which got the company to take the old menu down.

Hello friends. I’d like to let you know that we do not now, nor have we ever done business with Grubhub even though...

Posted by Salvatore's Tomato Pies-Sun Prairie on Saturday, January 9, 2021

Industry leaders say delivery services are a good thing to help restaurants get through the pandemic, but if they don't have a contractual relationship with the local restaurants, customers should avoid ordering from third party services.

"That is when it's problematic, because the restaurant is, pun intended, in the driver's seat on what happens with their food," said Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

Hillmer says in cases where there is no contractual agreement, the restaurant is not in control of its menu, pricing or delivery times, which can lead to a bad experience for the customer and restaurant.

She's seen instances where bills are 30 to 35 percent more through third-party delivery than directly through the restaurant.

Some have tried to take action. California restaurants filed a class action lawsuit against Grubhub last fall, claiming the company posted menus online without permission.

27 News reached out to Grubhub about claims like these. A company spokesperson said Grubhub does have contractual partnerships with 245,000 of the more than 300,000 restaurants on its marketplace. Grubhub says the "overwhelming majority" of orders are with those partner restaurants.

In 2019, Grubhub chose to add restaurants in some cities based on demand for delivery.

"This is a model that other food delivery companies have been doing for years as a way to widen their restaurant supply, and we’re trying it as well to close the restaurant supply gap created by our competitors," the statement reads.

The Grubhub spokesperson said the company works to provide accurate menus based on available information online. It offers restaurants the option of being removed or updated from the marketplace upon request.

But DeRosa says that hasn't been easy for her. Ever since those first calls months ago, she's been trying to reach Grubhub to get the incorrect menu off the site.

She's gone back and forth with customer service representatives but that menu is still up.

"We haven't heard back from them, haven't got any emails back. The menu is still there. And there's just no progress being made on it," she said.

For now, she's trying to reach out on social media to let her regular customers know not to order from Grubhub and The Black Bear Inn is offering its own delivery service, too.

Experts say to make sure your purchase is supporting a local restaurant in the way that's best for them, you should call the restaurant directly or visit its website to find out what delivery service is used and their preferred way to fill orders.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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