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Since the pandemic started and we all became more dependent on takeout, we’ve been paying closer attention to third-party apps and their predatory fees. Some cities have enacted laws to curb how much these services can charge. Journalists have exposed various scams the apps use to steal business from restaurants who decline to use their services.
But still independent restaurants continue to use Grubhub and DoorDash and Uber Eats and all the rest because their owners feel they lack the resources to pay for marketing and delivery drivers or build a decent website that customers can use to place orders.
In Chicago, a restaurant consultancy firm called Captain wants to help restaurants become independent of the third-party apps. Captain, explains Chicago Inno, will “provide restaurants with online ordering, customer insights, marketing and other digital tools. Captain works with independent restaurants to take back control of their customer growth, and improve their web and mobile ordering, SEO, web development and personalized marketing.” The staff at Captain knows about all of this because more than half of them, including CEO Michael Saunders, used to work at Grubhub.
Well, it is said that it takes a thief to catch a thief.
Saunders decided to start up Captain after he heard from former clients that they were getting hit by massive fees from the third-party apps.
“So much of their profit was being pushed away that they needed path to regain it themselves—to regain control of their business,” he told Chicago Inno. “A lot of these restaurant owners are very independent minded. They opened a restaurant because it wasn’t a corporate job. And all of a sudden, they felt like they were working for somebody else. And we gave them the tools and expertise to be independent again.”
Although Captain is two years old, it’s only begun to ramp up its business in the past few months. Its clients include Irazú, Aloha Poke, Blockheads, and Tandoor Char House. Captain’s goal, Saunders explained, is to help the restaurants understand who their customers are, find new customers, and create an easy ordering and delivery experience. So far, it hasn’t taken any outside funding; Saunders said that would interfere with its mission.
“Restaurants need to figure out their digital presence and run their customer relationships themselves, and we provide that for them,” he said. “The real relationship needs to be between the customer and the restaurant themselves. Not the customer and the delivery guy.”
Will that be enough? The owners of Irazú, a 30-year-old Costa Rican restaurant in the Bucktown neighborhood, recently went public with their struggles to stay open during the pandemic. They did, however, make a point of asking customers to use the restaurant website, not Grubhub.