The SF Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to permanently cap the per-order fees that delivery apps charge to restaurants at 15 percent — extending what had been a temporary cap put in place during the early months of the pandemic.
Restaurants in San Francisco had been complaining since before the pandemic began that delivery apps like GrubHub, DoorDash, and Postmates were making money on both ends, charging consumers extra fees on their orders and taking commissions on the restaurant's side that ranged between 15 and 30 percent. With restaurant profit margins typically low to begin with, many complained that these app startups were gouging them and eating up what little money they might be making on each order, all in the name of convenience.
San Francisco became one of the first U.S. cities to set a cap on what the apps could charge restaurants when Mayor London Breed passed an emergency order last April capping the commission fees at 15 percent.
"In these tough financial circumstances, every dollar counts and can make the difference between a restaurant staying open, or shuttering," Breed said at the time.
In Tuesday's vote, the Board of Supervisors makes the fee cap permanent, with Supervisors Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin having led the charge. The legislation, which will still get a second vote and may get further amended, allows the app companies to charge extra fees for enhanced services — such as marketing services that give more prominent placement to a restaurant within an app. But the per-order fee will be capped at 15 percent.
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association's Laurie Thomas cheered the news in a statement:
"We are happy to have worked with Supervisor Peskin and his staff on this important legislation to set a permanent cap on the delivery commission fees that third party delivery companies place on restaurants in San Francisco. This legislation is well thought out, allowing the ability for restaurant operators to sign a completely separate marketing agreement for additional services, while ensuring that a clear 15% cap will remain on the delivery service. This legislation will help ensure our San Francisco restaurants can continue to operate in a financially sustainable way as they recover from the past year plus with limited capacity and lost revenue."
Multiple municipalities and states passed temporary, emergency legislation capping delivery commission fees during the pandemic, but most of these were set to expire after restaurants were allowed to more fully reopen.
The California legislature failed to pass a permanent 15-percent cap on these fees, which had been championed by San Diego Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez. Instead, back in May, the Assembly passed AB286, which simply requires more transparency in these fees from the app providers — showing customers and restaurants exactly who is being charged what in every transaction.
Temporary caps set by other states, including New York State — which capped delivery commissions at 15% and marketing fees at 5% — are set to expire, and legislation to make them permanent still has not passed in most cases.
The Wall Street Journal covered the conflict in April, noting that while many restaurants and consumers have come to rely on the apps, many restaurants are "tiring" of paying exorbitant fees.
The major three — GrubHub, DoorDash, and UberEats — have so far declined to comment on San Francisco's new legislation, as the Chronicle notes.
Comments on pending legislation around the country from the apps themselves has tended to focus on the impact on the consumer, saying they'll have to raise prices if their ability to charge commissions is capped.
"DoorDash has always supported restaurants," reads one such statement from earlier this year. "Pricing regulations could cause us to increase costs for customers, which could lead to fewer orders for local restaurants and fewer earning opportunities for Dashers."
Photo: Kai Pilger