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You Don’t Really Know Who’s Making the Food You Order Online

An investigation has revealed that dozens of restaurants appearing on popular delivery services like GrubHub and Seamless don’t even exist. So where is your food really coming from when you order online? You might not want to know. Enjoy those egg...
Photo via Flickr user Sarah Ross

Ordering online can be a pretty damn risky prospect. Sure, most delivery services are very good at ensuring that most customers are blissfully unaware of said fact, but that doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist. No amount of $10 discount codes and perky hotline assistants can erase the time you found that very real glass eye in your pho or spent the better part of the night wandering around Chinatown trying to guide your sobbing deliveryman to your apartment.

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So it's with a great deal of reluctance that we report to you that shit just got even more real in the nebulous world of online food-delivery services. News 4 New York's I-Team reports that dozens of restaurants appearing on popular delivery services like GrubHub and Seamless don't even exist.

The investigative team claims to have looked at 100 of New York's top-rated restaurants on the both GrubHub and Seamless—these weren't even the poorly rated restaurants—and found that more than 10 percent of them were in fact nowhere to be found on the city's restaurant inspection database.

They're being called "ghost restaurants."

New York's Consumer Affairs Commissioner, Julie Menin, told News 4 New York that her office had also uncovered the same problem with delivery food. Menin says some of the shell accounts aren't even real restaurants at all, but unregistered kitchens. "Some people might be illegally operating from their apartment, from their home, and delivering to people in complete contravention to department of health regulation," explained Menin.

Others are restaurants delivering food under a pseudonym because they have health records that leave a lot to be desired.

READ: Lazy Americans Are Blowing Tons of Their Money on Food Delivery

One such example is a GrubHub provider called "Really Chinese." They supposedly operate out of an address that is in fact a residential brownstone with no signs of a restaurant whatever. Investigators found that "Really Chinese" isn't a registered restaurant in New York City at all, but a shell account for a restaurant called Abby Chinese, which New York City Health and Mental Hygiene records show has a "B" health rating, largely due to live roaches and evidence of mice found at the restaurant on multiple occasions. Of course, you would have no way of knowing about said violations if you were to order from "Really Chinese" on GrubHub. After the investigation, the ghost restaurant's listing was pulled from GrubHub.

Apparently, some restaurants advertise under multiple names not just to avoid being linked to their lousy ratings, but also to attract more business on the delivery websites. The manager of Abby Chinese, Gary Chen, readily admitted to opening the shell account and stated, "When we have one line, it's hard to compete. We know how many lines some of the other restaurants have. It's an open secret."

Commissaries, which don't have to register with the Health Department because they aren't actually considered restaurants and aren't allowed to deliver food straight to customers, are also advertising as restaurants on both GrubHub and Seamless.

The two big food delivery companies—which merged back in 2013—have pledged to reform their process and begin to cross-check hosted restaurants with the applicable city's restaurant database.

So where is your food really coming from when you order online? The answer is this: You just don't know. Enjoy those egg rolls!