Uber and Dig lure New Yorkers by making fun of Grubhub debacle

Leslie Patton and Jackie Davalos
Bloomberg

New Yorkers are getting lunch delivered with a side of snark after Grubhub's delivery snafu.

Uber Eats sent an email to users this week with the subject line: "There's no such thing as free lunch" with a winking emoji and a $25 coupon. Fast-casual restaurant chain Dig sent users a message asking "Still hangry from Tuesday?" encouraging them to download the chain's mobile app with a referral discount.

"Your friends waited 6 hours for a sloppy burrito; not cool," the email reads beneath a photo of an overwhelmed employee in a kitchen holding a jumble of online-order receipts.

A food delivery courier for Grubhub wears a protective mask in New York, U.S., on April 6, 2020.

Grubhub tried to win New Yorkers' hearts and wallets with a "free lunch" promo on May 17 that went awry. A surge in orders resulted in delayed -- or absent -- deliveries that left eateries overwhelmed, workers in short supply and tens of thousands of orders canceled. At the lunchtime peak, Grubhub was averaging 6,000 orders a minute, spokesman David Tovar said.

The promotion gave Grubhub users $15 off between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday -- a promotion intended to be a boon for the city's restaurants, customers and couriers. Instead, many restaurant owners said the Grubhub offer upended their businesses entirely.

"It was just really frustrating, and we were all a little upset as we were watching the delivery orders pile up," said Donald D'Alessio, who had to close his sandwich shop and bakery, Comfortland, six hours early after it was overrun with orders from Grubhub's free lunch giveaway.

Comfortland had 150 orders in 3 hours and due to the lack of drivers, the restaurant had bags of orders that were never picked up. The restaurant took to social media to tell diners to come to Astoria, dangling free ice cream for those who came to pick up their meals. D'Alessio said a small percentage of customers came to the restaurant to get their food.

"It was disappointing for everybody just because everyone was excited about free lunch, and then it just didn't really happen. It sucked," he said.

Now D'Alessio, 41, said he hoped Grubhub would reimburse those impacted by the promotion that caused all the chaos.

On Thursday, Grubhub sent out apology emails to restaurant owners, saying that no eatery would be charged for an order that was cancelled because its drivers weren't available. The company said that customers who had problems with the lunch promo would get a $15 credit to order again through Grubhub.

"We know that the significant surge in orders may have impacted your service, and we're committed to making it right," Grubhub said in the letter, which D'Alessio received.