Some Baton Rouge restaurants and customers are boycotting Waitr this week to demonstrate their value to the food delivery platform that recently announced controversial new terms for restaurants.
The boycott, which was inspired by a similar one-day blackout in Lafayette, began Sunday and continues through the weekend.
"I like the Waitr app. I use the Waitr app. I don't want Waitr out of business," said Franz Borghardt, a Baton Rouge criminal defense attorney who's spearheading the week-long event. "I'm like a lot of people who hope Waitr is going to get back to its roots and listen to the restaurants that made them successful, instead of the shareholders."
Lafayette's boycott took place Sunday, but it wasn't as successful as participants hoped because Tropical Storm Barry caused many restaurants to close unexpectedly.
Even Hot Food Express owner Zee Baloch, who's leading the Lafayette effort, didn't participate because of the storm. Baloch said he's glad to see Baton Rouge restaurants and consumers follow his lead.
"I want to salute them because, honestly, what I was doing was just one day," he said. "Now they're doing a week, and that's going to make a bigger impact for sure."
Waitr issued a statement in response to the boycott events happening in Lafayette and Baton Rouge.
"From our founding, our mission has been to bring the value of food delivery to our restaurant partners with the lowest fees in the industry," the statement said. "As we move to a performance based rate model on August 1, we continue to provide restaurants with the lowest fees in the delivery industry, with those with the highest order volume receiving a rate half that of our national competitors, and those with lower volume still lower than our competition. The success of our restaurant partners is our first priority, and we will work closely with our partners to optimize their delivery success in order drive rates to the lower end of the scale across the board."
Borghardt was inspired to organize the Baton Rouge boycott after seeing the Lafayette blackout. Although he doesn't legally represent restaurant owners, Borghardt said he regularly works with them on boards and at community events.
About 200 people are attending the Facebook event he created called Baton Rouge Turns Off Waitr Week.
"It's certainly getting a lot of attention," Borghardt said. "There's no way of knowing the impact. The only people that know how much effect it's having is Waitr."
Backlash was swift after Waitr announced a new performance-based rate model for partner restaurants earlier this month.
Restaurateurs aren't just upset about Waitr's new commission structure, which is higher for restaurants that have a smaller volume of sales through Waitr and lower for those with a larger volume. They've been particularly vocal about the tone and terms of the new contract, which further limit restaurants' ability to offset expenses associated with the new terms.
"I think it's clear that the contract is one-sided," Borghardt said. "It is abundantly clear that the contract is one-sided."
Borghardt said the goal isn't to hurt Waitr in the long term but instead to get the company's attention in the short term. He just hopes the now-publicly traded company that sold for $308 million will remember its roots as a small tech company that was known for helping local restaurants.
Waitr employees have been discussing the new terms with restaurant owners ahead of the Aug. 1 launch.
The new commission structure isn't likely going to change, according to restaurateurs who have met with the company, but some of the terms that limit their control might. So far, they've come to oral agreements, but nothing has been put into writing.
"There's no way I'll sign the contract as-is," Baloch said. "I have to get new terms in writing, and those have to be the same for other restaurants too. I've gotten people hyped up. I'm not going to leave them hanging just because I got a good deal. I'm going to stand up for the others."
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