Skip the Drama - The Orca
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Skip the Drama

Maclean Kay
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Skip the Dishes’ petulant ‘BC Fee’ set off an entirely avoidable firestorm on social media.

Skip the Dishes, a restaurant delivery service, has made the wrong kind of waves with its “BC Fee” – a 99 cent surcharge on BC customers.

In a vacuum, this wouldn’t be so bad – 99 cents doesn’t even get you an extra ramekin of peanut sauce – but what rubbed so many the wrong way is Skip made it political.

The notice on the Skip the Dishes app reads:

“The Province of British Columbia has temporarily capped the fees that Skip can charge local restaurants. To continue to provide you with the food you love from your favourite restaurants while providing earning opportunities for independently-contracted couriers, you will now see a charge added to all orders in B.C. until the order is lifted.”

Okay, some quick background. Still somewhat new overall, restaurant delivery apps have blossomed in the pandemic. At first, they were widely hailed as a convenient, safe way to indulge cravings, support struggling local restaurants, and, well, skip doing any dishes. (Not all branding is misleading.)

But in many restaurants’ view, there was a problem. For one thing, the services were expensive. And demanding. And apparently, difficult to work with.

Two days before Christmas, the provincial government introduced a cap on delivery fees at 20 per cent, all in – a significant difference, as some restaurants reported delivery services sometimes gobbled up half the price paid by customers.

When the government introduced the cap, DoorDash indicated it might raise costs on customers to compensate. But only Skip the Dishes has moved forward with a surcharge – at least, so far.

BC is not the first or only jurisdiction to cap delivery service fees – but I can’t find any indication of a similar surcharge. (In the United States, these regulations are set city by city, so it’s entirely possible I missed one or two.) Up here in Canada, Ontario has also set a cap…but there’s no Ontario Fee.

Fuses are short right now, so you can understand why Skip the Dishes’ BC Fee rubbed many the wrong way.

It’s irritating in the extreme for a Silicon Valley-based company to wade into domestic politics (but enough about Twitter), especially when done so clumsily. And if you’re in or aligned with the NDP government, it’s galling that Skip the Dishes saw you as a smaller, but also wobblier and softer, target than Ontario.

All that said, the online reaction still seemed slightly overblown.

The issues with delivery services were hardly unknown, and aren’t new; the Instagram post above is from March 28. Adding an extra dollar, explicitly passing the cost onto customers and away from the struggling restaurant, seems reasonable – although again, making it overtly political was a misstep.

Had Skip the Dishes just tucked in an extra 99-cent fee with no explanation other than “increased costs,” I submit the overwhelming majority of its customers would either not notice, or not care. Exhibit A: this week, Netflix managed to announce it was raising its monthly fee without sparking a round of #CancelNetflix. (Not until I get through the latest season of Outlander, at least.)

Skip the Dishes may have made itself into a convenient villain, but the sad fact is delivery services are still a lifeline for many restaurants – in some cases, literally the only means of keeping the lights on. And yes, for some fried families (including my own, once per week), they offer occasional oases of time and indulgence. A simulacrum of what Going Out For Dinner was like in the Before Times.

It’s easy to lecture people to just get out and grab their takeout themselves, and if that’s doable for you, it’s certainly a better option. For a few reasons, it’s not quite so doable for me during the pandemic – a complete 180 for me, hopefully reversed when we slay the coronadragon. I’m sure I’m not alone.

No matter how you feel about the BC Fee, or delivery services in general, the same plea to head into the local establishment is made for literally every business from bookstores to bespoke tailoring. And yet, across North America, convenience was enjoying quite a winning streak, even before “leaving the house” was officially taboo.

But by picking a fight instead of just quietly hiking the fee (again, we’re talking about ONE DOLLAR), Skip the Dishes made itself an easy villain. For a business founded entirely on convenience, it’s a delicious irony.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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