Manuela Lopez Restrepo/NPR
When I first saw that Grubhub was running a free lunch promotion for New Yorkers on Tuesday, my mind didn’t begin to think about logistics or labor shortages.
All I thought about was what kind of sandwich I was going to treat myself to that day. Spoiler alert: I haven’t received my sandwich.
The reality for me, and many others who tried to buy out this deal in New York’s five boroughs, was a slew of canceled orders, undelivered food, and restaurants that found themselves overwhelmed by sudden demand and unexpected.
The problems started when Grubhub, the food delivery platform, started advertising a $15 credit for New Yorkers from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Demand surged and at one point 6,000 orders per minute were coming in through the app.
Then it seemed to crash.
Order canceled after waiting 2 hours, and now every restaurant has “paused” the order. It was a good idea, but it was not considered. pic.twitter.com/3pWzscUWdu
— Jonah Sahn (@jonahsahn) May 17, 2022
Social media was inundated with people complaining of long waits or that the restaurants they frequented seemed unavailable for delivery, or simply offline.
I managed to place my order at a local restaurant, Toad Style BK, but half an hour later I received a message that it had been cancelled. The merchant had not accepted my order.
So I went to investigate.
Abby Horetz, a line cook at Toad Style BK who was working at the time of the Grubhub promotion, says her initial reaction to the influx of orders was pure confusion.
Manuela Lopez Restrepo/NPR
“We were getting six tickets at a time. I tried to pause it, but more kept coming,” she said.
In addition to the flurry of orders, the restaurant was training a new hire, receiving a shipment of produce, and passing a health inspection.
Tyler Merfeld, co-owner of Toad Style BK with his wife Jillian Camera, said they were completely overwhelmed with the promotion. He said Grubhub did not directly inform them of the deal.
“I would absolutely love that kind of promotion,” Merfeld said. “It’s great to have so much business, but we wish we had some foresight. We could have had more people working. It was busier than the Super Bowl.”
Other restaurants have reported food waste due to mismatch between orders and drivers. A Tiktok user showed off discarded bags and containers of unclaimed orders, writing, “This is what a free lunch looks like.”
Horetz said after a flood of orders, she noticed cancellations and started recording completed orders for other customers so they weren’t wasted.
As a food delivery marketplace, we are dedicated to the success of our restaurants and our drivers.
To help businesses prepare for today’s promotion, we have notified our restaurant network in advance. Also, given the anticipated demand, we have increased the incentives for drivers. (1/2)
—Grubhub (@Grubhub) May 18, 2022
In a statement to NPR, Grubhub said it had sent restaurants advance notice of the promotion and increased “driver incentives to help support demand,” but added that “no one could anticipate the level of demand and unfortunately this has caused pressure on some Restaurants.”
For many hungry New Yorkers this week, there really was no such thing as a free lunch.