Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
Private apartments could be masquerading as real restaurants.
When food delivery services like Seamless and GrubHub became popular a few years ago, they were every’s urbanist dream: No more waiting on the phone or inside a restaurant for your favorite to-go meal. Just hop online, click a few buttons, and, wham—a half-hour later, a steaming carton of pad Thai appears at your door.
Until now, the ordering process has been—well, seamless. GrubHub alone (which officially merged with Seamless in 2013) has successfully expanded to over 900 cities, including London. But a recent investigation by NBC 4 New York just revealed a seriously disturbing flaw in how these services currently operate.
Turns out that your pad Thai might not have been made by the restaurant listed on the site. In fact, it might not have been made by a restaurant at all.
According to Julie Menin, the Consumer Affairs Commissioner of New York City, some of the restaurants that appear on Seamless and GrubHub may actually be “ghost kitchens” using false names and addresses that aren’t listed under the New York City Department of Health’s restaurant inspection database.
That means that, theoretically, any random New Yorker could be cooking meals and selling them on the site. "Some people might be illegally operating from their apartment, from their home, and delivering to people in complete contravention to department of health regulation," said Menin.
Of the 100 restaurants investigated by NBC 4 New York, more than ten of them were untraceable to the health department’s database. One of these “restaurants” ended up being identified as an actual establishment about four blocks away from the listed address. After looking at the Health Department records, NBC 4 found six reported incidents of rats, roaches, and mice at the restaurant over the past two years. When interviewed by the news station, the owner claimed “it's an open secret” that restaurants masquerade under multiple listings to compete with one another.
Whether or not insiders are aware of this false advertising, it’s certainly news to most customers. But only time will tell if they’re grossed out enough to stop ordering on the sites. So far, many Twitter reactions have made light of the situation:
This information horrifies me and makes me never want to order Seamless again (but let's be honest, I will) https://t.co/7ks31MElW6— Alexandra Sanders (@byalexsanders) November 11, 2015
if cooking is so new jersey, then eating delivery from unknown, possibly disgusting kitchens is so new york! https://t.co/FUdZLHKD87— mashed potatoes (@steverousseau) November 11, 2015
There’s also the possibility that this new discovery will prompt Seamless and GrubHub to vet their restaurants a little more thoroughly. GrubHub has already issued a statement promising to work with the Department of Consumer Affairs to verify current listings and remove any false ones. They’re also encouraging customers to send them tips if they spot inaccuracies on the site.
Until then, customers will have to run the risk of not knowing the origin of their takeout. Or conduct a quick Google search and find out.