- Real Estate
- Food & Drink
Nov. 14, 2018
It already was a busy night at Spezia.
An event in town and a typical robust Saturday dinner crowd meant the restaurant was buzzing.
And then the phone started ringing at the host stand.
“We started getting higher to-go orders,” manager Tera Regnier said. “And obviously we’re already very busy. It’s our holiday season. We’re packed with parties and reservations, an hourlong wait and we had all these to-go orders.”
After the same man kept coming to pick up orders, an employee started a conversation and learned he was with Bite Squad, a delivery service based in the Twin Cities that recently launched in Sioux Falls.
“I had been visited by Bite Squad multiple times to join their service, and we declined because we are so busy and it can really back us up,” Regnier said. “So when the hostess started saying we had a guy delivering for Bite Squad, I’m like, ‘This is shady.’ ”
As of Nov. 5, Bite Squad reported 28 restaurant partners in Sioux Falls. Many reported favorable experiences and increased business. But by Nov. 13, the list had grown to 69 restaurants.
One of them, Urban Chislic, also turned down Bite Squad service when approached and ended up on the platform anyway.
“Chislic should be eaten right away. It’s perfect 90 seconds (after it’s cooked) right in front of you,” co-owner Hong Phrommany said.
Inside the restaurant, if chislic sits for more than two minutes before being delivered to a customer, “we make it over,” he said.
“It’s a new concept and we want to make sure customers are getting it the way we want it. So I wasn’t intrigued by delivery. We were trying to do takeout the first day we opened, and it failed. We had 50 orders the first 45 minutes, so I shut it off because we weren’t able to service our customers right in front of us, which was sad. About two weeks later, we allowed you to call in. And from our website you can order straight from there, and it’s completely seamless.”
When a restaurant signs on as a Bite Squad partner, the service installs a tablet at the restaurant that captures online orders. Restaurants can set their menu items, adjust wait times or turn the system off entirely if they get too busy.
None of that happened with this approach.
Instead, Bite Squad put restaurants’ menus online – in many cases inflating their normal prices 20 percent to 25 percent plus a booking fee – and called in orders manually when they arrived through the platform.
To an unsuspecting restaurant, it would appear as though a local customer was calling in a to-go order.
“I even went as far as trying to work with the host to screen the calls,” Regnier said. “It’s not just the ordering. It’s the platform. Our system isn’t set up for online ordering. Our hosts don’t have access to manually enter credit cards over the phone. So every time they’re taking an order, they need a manager, and it was just a headache.”
The same thing happened to Vanguard Hospitality restaurants Grille 26 and Minervas.
“Someone told one of our chefs we were on there and delivering, and he contacted us,” said Tim Meagher, Vanguard’s chief operating officer.
“It just makes it difficult because you have to balance your guest orders and your to-go orders, and we weren’t in control of quoting a time, and we didn’t know about it. We need to be able to turn it on and off. By turning it off, you can protect the customer at home and the customer at the restaurant.”
When asked about its evolving business model, price changing and placement of restaurants that hadn’t agreed to be signed up, Bite Squad provided the following statement:
“Bite Squad’s mission is to make our customers’ day by delivering just what they want from their favorite local restaurants. We’ve built our business in partnership with thousands of great restaurants. We are also testing a way to serve our customers who want more selection, by seamlessly placing orders at non-partnered restaurants on behalf of the customer. If any restaurant does not wish to be listed, we will immediately remove them upon request.”
Restaurants asking to be removed from the service can email firstname.lastname@example.org during business hours, the company said.
Spezia, Grille 26 and Minervas have been removed, and Urban Chislic is planning to request it.
Bite Squad also refunded a Minervas customer who waited two hours for an order over the weekend and received cold food.
When Meagher talked to a Bite Squad representative, “they said their competition in other markets had been doing this, so they’re doing the same thing,” he said.
Bite Squad’s competitor in Sioux Falls, Food Dudes Delivery, does not use that approach, local franchise owner Megan Culver said.
“Before a restaurant partner is placed on our website, a contract has been completed by both parties which states the expectations and requirements of both the delivery company and restaurant to ensure the best quality service and experience for the customer,” she said.
Her service added several new contracted partners this week: Chevys Fresh Mex, Fuji Sushi Express, Gnosh, Johnny Carino’s and Slim Chickens. Later this month, she plans to add five more.
Vanguard might add delivery at one or more of its properties, Meagher said, “but we want it handled with the same level of professionalism and the same level of care we take with our guests.”
They won’t use Bite Squad, though, he said.
“What they did was deceptive. We don’t do business like that.”
Bite Squad has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau in many locations across the U.S., according to Jessie Schmidt, South Dakota state director.
“This is a result of failing to respond to complaints against the business,” she said.
“We would be concerned about a business model that has restaurants participating in a service without knowing and more specifically when a restaurant has chosen not to participate and is included anyway. These transactions appear to violate some of our code of business practices to advertise honestly and be transparent.”
When asked to respond to those who considered the business practice deceptive, Bite Squad did not respond.
Restaurants were forced to scramble in recent days after being added to the delivery service Bite Squad without their knowledge or permission.