Locally owned food delivery service faces corporate competition
The age-old question, "What's for dinner?" may soon be replaced with a more modern one: "Who's delivering?"
As a driver who's completed more than 1,600 food deliveries for four different businesses, including his own, Randy Luethye wasn't too surprised to see DoorDash make its way to Forest Grove.
"I actually think it's a good thing DoorDash came out here, because I think it can bring some more business to small, local restaurants," Luethye said. "The only downside, of course, is that it's affecting my business."
DoorDash began sending flyers to some residents of Forest Grove just prior to its Portland-area launch, formally beginning business in the Rose City and neighboring communities on July 10.
Luethye — who began serving Forest Grove and its surrounding area via Randy's Delivery in March of this year — was surprised, however, to find that unlike himself, DoorDash did not possess a business license for the area.
After reading news of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, calling for a federal investigation of a similar service, GrubHub, Luethye called the City of Forest Grove inquiring about what proper licensing might look like for corporate entities. Also a driver for Postmates, DoorDash and GrubHub, Luethye didn't recall being clearly told to register as a driver or independent enterprise under a city license by these platforms.
"I'm obviously not the only person in the world with a delivery service, and I had to get a business license and register with the city for Randy's Delivery," said Luethye, who was curious about the potential differences between his small business and larger corporations.
According to Luethye, the person he spoke with at the city said DoorDash should purchase a Forest Grove business license in order to serve the community, regardless of the entity's larger stature. This echoes the city's licensing webpage, which states: "All businesses and persons doing business within the city of Forest Grove need to obtain a business license each year."
However, as of Monday, Aug. 5, DoorDash had not yet filed licensing paperwork with the City of Forest Grove. And it probably never will.
DoorDash explains in an "Independent Contractor Agreement" that all prospective drivers must sign that DoorDash is "not a restaurant, food delivery service, or food preparation business," and its contractors are defined as "independent providers of delivery services."
In other words, you can order food online using the DoorDash website or phone app, but as far as the company is concerned, it's an independent contractor — not DoorDash — who actually delivers that order.
According to Paul Downey, Forest Grove's finance director, the language in DoorDash's agreement is very common among emerging businesses, especially services that rely on drivers.
"They have their core headquarters and then everyone they 'hire' as an independent contractor — it's typically part of what these business try to do so if they were to ever come up against legal issues, they may have a slightly stronger case," Downey said.
For Luethye, this presents no legal issues thanks to his license for Randy's Delivery, therefore encompassing all delivery services performed by him. But others may need to contact the city about obtaining their own business license if they wish to deliver through platforms such as DoorDash.
"I can't say I'm negative about the situation — I just think it should be more of a level playing field," Luethye said.
The city's code enforcement officer could step in if business is conducted by drivers prior to licensing and deliveries are determined to have been made in violation of the business license code. Although Downey said the city does its best to work with and help potential business owners before any warnings, fines or other consequences are enforced.
"We haven't updated business license ordinances or done a lot of research in this area quite yet," Downey said. "This is a murky issue, and we'll probably have some conversations about this."
Downey notes the difficulty in tracking and keeping up with emerging businesses such as DoorDash, as they often rely on contractors traveling in and out of the city with no established base.
The News-Times reached out multiple times to DoorDash for comment but received no response.
Luethye — though still concerned about licensing, a future of potentially expensive delivery charges for customers and possible technical issues with DoorDash such as imperfect menus lacking options and specificities — is looking on the positive side.
Luethye, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he's especially grateful for his regulars and restaurant partners for showing recent support. Luethye continues to deliver through Randy's Delivery and other big-name services.
"The beauty of all of this is that it has caused a lot of publicity and chatter through Facebook in the community," he said with a chuckle. "I'm not going to change my business model. The people that I have served — they love me, and I still get repeat customers, even though this has definitely affected my business."
Randy's Delivery can be reached by phone at 971-470-5093 or via Facebook page at Facebook.com/RandysDelivery.
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