Customers trying to avoid online delivery platforms like Grubhub by calling restaurants directly might be dialing phone numbers generated and advertised by those very platforms — for which restaurants are charged fees that can sometimes exceed the income the order generates. BuzzFeed News reports: Here’s how phone fees work: Grubhub (which also owns Seamless, MenuPages, Tapingo, and LevelUp) generates a unique phone number for each restaurant on its platform; it appears on the restaurant’s Grubhub or Seamless page and redirects to the restaurant’s own phone line (a restaurant cannot list its own phone number on its Grubhub or Seamless page). The redirect number can also appear higher in Google search results (including the Google panel for that business) than the restaurant’s own line. This leads some customers to call it even if they don’t intend to use Grubhub. Some restaurant owners have also raised this concern about Yelp, which lists Grubhub numbers, according to Vice. This is a long-standing practice for Grubhub, which was founded in 2004 and charged a commission for phone orders before online ordering took off. When a Grubhub number is dialed, the caller hears an automated message that says “Press 1 to place an order. Press 2 for all other information.” It does not mention Grubhub. After the caller is connected, the platform can charge the restaurant a fee. Each restaurant’s phone order fee is a flat dollar amount based on a percentage of its average sale. Grubhub charges that fee using an algorithm (which factors in a number of things, including the length of the call) — even, in some cases, when it did not result in an order. A restaurant owner can challenge a phone charge within a certain period of time, but the onus is on them to see which charges are erroneous. The practice is now coming under fire as it further squeezes businesses already stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns. “On Wednesday, the New York City Council passed a bill prohibiting platforms from charging for telephone calls in which a transaction did not take place during the state of emergency,” the report says. “It also capped fees that platforms may charge restaurants for orders and deliveries during an emergency.”

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