Food delivery service Caviar has been undergoing a giant transition this month as the platform integrates with its new parent company, DoorDash — and the mid-pandemic switch has been a mess for restaurants, several operators say.
As restaurants are forced to migrate from Caviar’s ordering platform to DoorDash following a company acquisition that was first announced last year, the food delivery behemoth has been dropping orders, mistakenly delisting restaurants from Caviar’s app, showing incorrect menus to diners, and costing restaurants thousands of dollars in lost sales, according to several operators on the platform. All requested anonymity in order to speak freely about the situation while maintaining their relationship with the delivery service, which has been a main source of revenue during the pandemic.
A popular West Village restaurant had been processing 75 to 120 orders per day through Caviar for the past eight to nine weeks — it’s been “amazingly consistent,” the owner says — but the restaurant saw a huge drop-off in orders after Caviar updated its consumer-facing app this week. On Monday and Tuesday, the restaurant’s order count was in “the low teens” each day, according to the owner, which has cost the restaurant “thousands of dollars” in lost sales. He says that he’s witnessed people at the restaurant attempt to look up the business on Caviar — for one person it’ll show up, while for another, the restaurant’s listing is disabled.
“I understand that there’s normal headaches when two companies of this size merge,” the owner says. “That’s fine and good. But the timing of this is completely insensitive to the lifeblood of restaurants.”
When reached for comment, Caviar’s parent company DoorDash said that it was looking into the issues.
“We work to ensure that we are always offering the highest quality of service to the communities we serve, and we apologize for the poor experience some of our Caviar merchants recently received,” a Caviar spokesperson said in a statement. “We are actively working to address the matter, and sincerely regret any inconvenience this has caused.”
The three restaurateurs who spoke with Eater confirmed that they have tried to reach out to Caviar to get more information about the system malfunctions, but customer service has been spotty at the company, owners say. Some who have a dedicated account manager say that those representatives have been responsive, but also aren’t informed on what is happening. Others have been trying to get answers on Caviar’s customer service hotline, to no avail.
Caviar started migrating onto DoorDash’s tech systems starting August 10, according to an email that Caviar sent out to restaurants on its platform, and the process is expected to be completed on August 24. During that time, Caviar asked restaurants to monitor both Caviar and DoorDash ordering platforms, as Caviar orders would be coming from both places during the transition. Caviar also encouraged restaurants not to change their menus throughout the month of August, according to two restaurant consultants based in NYC.
“During these times, to be asking these things of Caviar’s restaurant partners is a little ridiculous,” one consultant who asked to remain anonymous says.
One Michelin-starred restaurant team that uses Caviar to facilitate delivery at the group’s more casual restaurant said orders dropped by 75 percent after the delivery service started its migration on August 10. After the front-facing consumer app updated this week, the restaurant saw zero orders on Tuesday and one or two orders on Wednesday. They’ve also seen the restaurant’s delivery zone inexplicably shrink, curtailing the amount of customers that the restaurant can reach.
“Every single penny is so important to run the business,” the co-owner says. “Also, we don’t use any other courier company other than Caviar. If their system is not working — and it’s raining, meaning no outdoor dining — that means no sales for the restaurant.”
For years, Caviar has cultivated a reputation as a more upscale food delivery app compared to its competitors like Grubhub and Uber Eats. On Caviar, customers could find NYC hotspots like West Village pasta destination Carbone, Michelin-starred Korean barbecue restaurant Cote, and acclaimed Flatiron Italian spot Rezdora. For many of these high-end restaurants, Caviar is the only delivery platform that they work with.
The reputation is what drew one prominent Michelin-starred fine dining spot to the platform when the restaurant started offering delivery for the first time four to five weeks ago. Now, the general manager of the upscale spot says they are in full “crisis management mode” as customers are unable to access the restaurant to order delivery.
“You could literally pay someone a full-time wage to document the string of issues that have been happening,” she says. The restaurant’s delivery range shrunk from three miles to one mile, orders have dried up, and the online menu — for those who can find it in the app — has shown up incomplete and with errors in the listing.
She estimates that the restaurant has lost at least two thousand dollars due to Caviar’s mistakes, but more significantly, she says, her team is scrambling to repair customer relationships. Some diners are now telling her that they are going to start trying to place orders at the restaurant for pickup and then send someone from Postmates to complete the delivery.
“It’s an extremely huge bungle,” she says. “Especially right now.”
The company did not provide further information about the specific issues that the platform is experiencing, or comment on whether Caviar would be issuing credit to restaurants that lost sales due to the system malfunctions.
Food delivery mergers have historically been troublesome — one of the NYC-based restaurant consultants says that, in 2019, they were still dealing with delivery issues stemming from Grubhub’s 2013 merger with Seamless — and restaurants could continue to get caught in the middle as the industry consolidates. Grubhub was purchased by European food delivery company Just Eat Takeaway in June, and Uber bought Postmates in July.
For now, restaurants on Caviar’s platform are doing what they can to encourage diners to order takeout, and call or email the restaurant directly until the merger issues are sorted out.
“It’s insane,” the general manager for the Michelin-starred spot says. “The only sort-of ironic comfort is that we’re all in the same boat.”