Uber and other delivery apps are encouraging users to buy from Black-owned restaurants in an attempt at support. But, it turns out, just like with your delivered dinner (which may come from a ghost kitchen or a restaurant that doesn’t even know it’s on your app of choice), not everything is as it seems.
One Twitter user in Salem, Oregon shared pictures showing Toast & Jam, a restaurant in the city, was labeled as being Black-owned by Uber Eats despite being owned by a white couple. The problem seems to be more widespread than that. A quick survey of restaurants in Uber Eats’ list of Black-owned restaurants in DC found at least two that don’t appear to be owned by Black people.
Abunai Poke, a restaurant serving Hawaiian food in Philadelphia and Washington, DC is one of is listed as being Black-owned. On the restaurant's website, however, the About section reads "Our founder is a woman who is part Native Hawaii and Japanese." There’s also Crepeaway, a family-operated restaurant originally based in Athens, Greece, then operated in New York City and Washington, D.C. The owner is Saad Jallad, who left Greece to study at American University in 1999 before starting the restaurant near George Washington University in 2004.
Motherboard reached out to the restaurant owners to learn more about how they were added to the list of Black-owned businesses, but didn’t immediately hear from them.
In the aftermath of the protests and uprisings following the police killing of George Floyd, a host of companies—including those exploiting Black workers and communities—scrambled to craft statements of solidarity and promotional campaigns affirming their commitment to racial justice. In June, Uber Eats rolled out a program to waive delivery fees for Black-owned restaurants, provided they were not part of franchises.
To be identified as being Black-owned on Uber Eats, restaurants can self-identify via a form offered on its website. On the page explaining the program, UberEats says that it also works with "a wide range of local organizations to identify Black-owned restaurants" and to "ensure the accuracy of our lists."
For DoorDash’s part, just like Uber Eats, being labeled a Black-owned business also seems to simply require self-identification via a form submitted on its website. Neither Abunai Poke nor Crepeaway show up on that app’s promotional list.
“We heard loud and clear from consumers that they wanted a feature that helped them support Black-owned businesses in the Uber Eats app,” an Uber Eats spokesperson said in a statement, “and we've created a process to help merchants to self-identify."
On the one hand, out-sourcing the actual work of submitting restaurants and verifying that they are Black-owned is very much in line with the gig economy’s business model of outsourcing as many costs as possible to others (workers, customers, the public, etc.) and should come as no surprise. On the other hand, having such a barebones process that clearly has issues does not exactly square with a commitment to racial justice—instead, it seems more aligned with a commitment to a business model that, whenever possible, will extract value from Black people whether as workers or as advertising campaigns.