You may already know that some restaurant owners invent otherwise-fake businesses expressly designed to appeal to users of online delivery systems, and now, according to a new investigation from NBC4, 10 percent of 100 of New York City’s top-rated restaurants on Seamless and GrubHub are “ghosts,” meaning that the address listed on the website is different from the food’s actual point of origin.*
What’s going on? Julie Menin, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs commissioner, says that some of the listings may be fronts for completely unregulated kitchens: “Some people might be illegally operating from their apartment, from their home, and delivering to people in complete contravention to department of health regulation.” In other cases, restaurants may be registering multiple pages under fake names and addresses on delivery sites to broaden their market share and increase the number of orders coming into one kitchen. The team at NBC4 ordered from a restaurant called “Really Chinese” that claimed its address was 235 East 31st Street, a private residence, and when the food arrived, the delivery worker said that it was coming from Abby Chinese four blocks away. Abby Chinese has a B rating with the Health Department after inspectors found evidence of rats, roaches, or mice there six times in the last two years.
In a statement, GrubHub Seamless, which merged two years ago to become a single company, told Grub:
At GrubHub, we take the accuracy of our restaurant listings seriously. We are partnering with New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs to address this issue and remove inaccuracies from our platforms.
Going forward, GrubHub will take additional steps to verify the details restaurants provide. Our new process includes more checks to validate the name and location of restaurants. Should any discrepancies arise, we will take immediate action to correct information or remove inaccurate listings of restaurants on our platforms.
And yet, despite their apology, Seamless and GrubHub have no legal responsibility to double check the names and addresses of restaurants on their platform. Their primary risk is that they may lose the trust of customers. But Michelle Jones, a restaurant legal consultant, points out the clear flaw in this strategy: “Consumers need to be able to trace back where their food comes from in the event they get sick.” Keep that in mind the next time you order something from a restaurant called AAAA+ Sushi, which you don’t remember seeing around the neighborhood, but it’s probably just new, right? Look, it has five stars! It must be good.
*This post has been updated to clarify that the investigation specifically focused on restaurants in New York City.