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Is third party delivery safe enough? Some restaurants in Los Angeles are worried.

Los Angeles ordinance requires food delivery platforms to provide protective gear for delivery workers during COVID-19, but some restaurants are still skeptical

Los Angeles County passed an interim ordinance meant to protect delivery workers, but some restaurants still don’t think third-party delivery is safe enough

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County passed an interim urgency ordinance to address the health concerns of grocery, pharmacy, and food delivery workers during the coronavirus pandemic, requiring their employers to provide protective gear, like facial masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, or a stipend to purchase these supplies. The ordinance, which will be in effect until the California stay-at-home emergency order is lifted, stipulates that in addition to providing protective gear, delivery platforms must require their workers to wash their hands before handling food for a delivery.

“As more guidelines are being placed for first responders, we must set stricter guidelines for those in the food and grocery sector,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas said in a press statement.  “Food and grocery stores have become essential in this difficult time, and we do all that we can to support and protect them with the resources we have available, including appropriate protective equipment and policies.”

But for some Los Angeles restaurants, this ordinance is not enough to make them confident in the safety of using third-party delivery, particularly seems it is focused on protecting workers and not the customers they deliver to. Since third-party delivery companies like GrubHub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash hire independent contractors as delivery drivers, the delivery workers do not directly work for the company and cannot be mandated to wear protective gear by law, according to a DoorDash spokesperson. DoorDash confirmed that although they “strongly encourage” the wearing of protective gear like face masks and gloves, that they cannot force their Dashers to so.

This “catch” to the comprehensive health and safety policies created by third-party delivery companies in the wake of the pandemic is exactly what concerns restaurant operators like Briana Valdez, the owner of HomeState Texas Kitchen, a Los Angeles-based Tex-Mex restaurant known for its breakfast tacos. Valdez previously partnered with Caviar (owned by Doordash), Postmates and Uber Eats. But as of April 6, she cut off all delivery partnerships and decided to switch to in-house delivery instead.

“It’s important for us to maintain control over the food from point A to point B,” Valdez said. “We can’t control how often the drivers may be changing their gloves, cleaning their car, or if they are using hand sanitizer properly. Are they sick? Do they have a fever? Since these are not things we cannot feel assured of, we don’t know if the time will come when we feel at ease again.”

Since in-house delivery is a strain on restaurant resources and staff, Valdez said that they have limited delivery to one of their three restaurants and only in a three-mile radius, though they are looking to expand delivery to their other locations soon.

“We have two vehicles for catering that we turned into delivery vehicles and we have our own employees trained for this, so we have not had to lay anyone off so far” Valdez said. “We need to be able to keep up with demand.”

As the Los Angeles ordinance was passed, the major third-party delivery companies are updating their policies to make sure they are in compliance.

“In response to COVID-19, we’ve taken numerous actions to protect and help merchants, Dashers and customers, and believe these steps mean we are in compliance with today's ordinance,” a DoorDash spokesperson said. “We ordered over 5 million consumer-grade face masks and are distributing those, along with hand sanitizer, gloves and wipes, to Dashers; we provided access for US-based Dashers to discounted virtual urgent care visits […] and established contactless delivery as default.  In addition, we will be sharing the County's requirements with Dashers in the area and will continue to remind them of these mandates, as well as general CDC guidance, as the situation evolves.”

Grubhub confirmed in a statement shared with Restaurant Hospitality that they are “complying with local guidance” on requiring drivers to wear protective gear.

“We’re making every effort to ensure drivers are as safe as possible on the road, and we provided drivers with guidance from the CDC to practice good hygiene and take precautions when interacting with diners and restaurants,” Grubhub said in a statement.

Uber Eats is “working to get sanitizing products” in the hands of their delivery drivers and is encouraging no-contact delivery, while Postmates is supplying disposable and reusable masks to their couriers in their Southern California markets:

“We are in constant communication with the Departments of Public Health in cities across the US about additional steps workers can take to protect themselves and the community,” a Postmates spokesperson said in a statement.

But for Apple Pan, a 75-year-old burger restaurant and Los Angeles mainstay, which had just started partnering with Postmates to offer delivery for the first time during the pandemic in March, these policies do not go far enough. After just three weeks of offering delivery for the first time in three-quarters of a century, Apple Pan “put a pause” on all delivery activities.

“The most important thing to us right now is to take care of our crew and staff so we can take care of our customers and provide some comfort even if it’s just a burger and fries,” Arthur Sherman, director of operations at Apple Pan said. “When we partnered with Postmates, there was a real demand for delivery. We see the benefits there but…we saw drivers not adhering to best practices: crowding, not wearing gloves etc., so we decided to pause these services right now and focus on walkups.”

Sherman said that they were thinking of bringing on extra workers to launch in-house delivery instead but that’s still a long way off. But does he feel better with the new Los Angeles legislation in place?

“We still have our hesitations, honestly,” Sherman said. “It’s not just masks and gloves, it’s about how are they washing their hands in their cars? I think there are a lot of hardworking folks out there that are trying [to do their best] but it’s not everyone. These are extraordinarily challenging circumstances and we have to control what we can.”

Representatives with Los Angeles County declined to comment on clarification of details in the new interim ordinance.

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

TAGS: Coronavirus
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