BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham City Council is poised to approve an ordinance at their next regular meeting that is intended to protect restaurants from being misrepresented by unwanted third-party delivery services.
The proposed ordinance will add a new section to the City’s municipal code prohibiting third-party restaurant delivery services from representing that any Bellingham restaurant is available for their services without having obtained the restaurant’s explicit permission to do so.
When a third-party delivery service receives an customer order for delivered food, they typically contact the restaurant and place a to-go order as would any customer. Then a delivery driver pays for and picks up the order from the restaurant and delivers it to the delivery service’s customer. The price the customer pays is determined by the delivery service.
Reasons given for needing this ordinance included the following.
- A restaurant may not be equipped or desire to offer items in to-go packaging
- A restaurant may not have capacity to handle the additional demand
- Delivery services may provide customers with an inaccurate menu and/or prices
- Delivery services may fail to maintain adequate food quality and/or customer service levels
- Restaurants have been receiving negative reviews due to bad third-party delivery service experiences by customers
As an indication of the magnitude of this issue, in California there were an estimated 40,000 unauthorized listings on one delivery platform alone prior to the passage of a California law prohibiting such practices. Such practices have started to generate litigation, with restaurant owners in Illinois filing suit against Grubhub. The lawsuit contended that Grubhub had added at least 150,000 restaurants to their platform without restaurant permission.
As a result of these issues, a number of jurisdictions have enacted measures to prohibit delivery services from creating unauthorized listings. The California Fair Food Delivery Act prohibits this practice statewide, and Seattle recently passed an ordinance with similar provisions. Washington D.C., Denver, and Minneapolis have passed temporary bans on such practices. These laws or ordinances create carefully targeted regulatory frameworks that prohibit listings without permission. Restaurants that wish to work with the delivery services are free to do so.Bellingham City Council Memorandum (August 19, 2021)
The ordinance is on the consent agenda section of the September 13th meeting regular meeting agenda and as such is expected to be approved without further discussion after having been approved unanimously (with 1 excused) during the Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on August 30th.