Vice is reporting that Yelp is changing phone numbers for Grubhub in order to let the company take a “referral fee” of between 15 to 20 percent without letting a restaurant know what’s happening.
A Vice reporter, while doing an investigation for the Underunderstood podcast, looked up a restaurant on the Yelp app and was given two options to call: One was “Delivery or Takeout” and the other was “General Questions.”
The reporter picked the “Delivery or Takeout” option and got a message that said: “This call may be recorded to ensure awesomeness,” and then a woman from the restaurant picked up. When the reporter asked the woman about the number they called from, the woman said she didn’t recognize it.
As it turned out, the number listed under “General Questions” was the real number to the restaurant, and the other number was owned by Grubhub. On the actual listing, the reporter noted, the app lists a direct phone number, but when it is clicked on, the two options appear.
The move started in October of 2018 when Yelp and Grubhub announced a “long-term partnership.”
When the reporter asked Mohammad Zaman, owner of Afghan Kabab and Grill House in Brooklyn, about the number, he said it was a mistake – until he was shown how it works.
“It’s not fair, because this is our customer who called directly into our restaurant,” he said. “It’s a trick.”
Robert Guarino, CEO of the Manhattan restaurant group 5 Napkin Burger and a board member at the New York City Hospitality Alliance, also didn’t know that Grubhub numbers were appearing in listings for two of his restaurants.
“We’re working with these companies to help generate orders, but so many times, we’re put in a position where we need to compete against them to get access to our customers,” he said. “So many of these practices make it hard to trust the companies. To not have all the practices clearly spoken about and understood by the businesses is really scary in my eyes.”
Yelp made a statement and then referred the reporter to Grubhub.
“It is our understanding that Grubhub has marketing agreements with some restaurants that allow Grubhub to utilize referral numbers on third-party partner sites like Yelp,” a spokesperson said.
“It is important to keep in mind that we are a marketing platform and, in almost all of these cases, the diner would not have discovered or placed an order with this restaurant without our platform,” Brendan Lewis, a spokesperson for Grubhub, said in an email. “The order is the result of our marketing efforts.”