Following weeks of controversy, Grubhub announces restaurant-friendly reforms

The company says it will set up a system to transfer web domains to restaurant owners, and will also improve the policy for its controversial phone charges.

Grubhub and Seamless have announced they will set up a website that makes it “even easier” for restaurants to obtain control of domains registered in their names, following a New Food Economy investigation that revealed the companies have together purchased tens of thousands of domain names. Grubhub has maintained that it reserved the contractual right to register web domains on behalf of its restaurant-customers, but the policy caught many restaurant owners by surprise.

In response to our story, the company maintained that it has always transferred URLs to restaurants upon request, and that it does not engage in “cybersquatting.” However, we heard from some restaurant owners who had difficulty trying to obtain control of their domains after our story published. Grubhub claims its new website will streamline the process. 

The company also announced it will extend the window of opportunity for restaurant owners to audit the recordings of phone calls for which they were charged commission. The company charges restaurants a percentage fee for phone calls routed through its system; sometimes, though, those calls do not result in food orders, generating a false charge for the restaurant. 

Grubhub has put the onus on restaurant owners to listen to recordings of all phone orders to determine which are false positives. In the past, the owners have been able to get refunds for erroneous charges made only in the last 60 days. Now, the window has been extended to 120 days. 

New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj, who leads the Small Business Committee, which held a hearing on delivery platforms’ business practices earlier this summer, issued a statement calling the changes to phone charges “insufficient.” He added, “I understand that this will impact the company’s bottom line, but I am more concerned about the bottom line of the restaurants that have paid these charges and are struggling to keep their doors open.” 

H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.