Deliveroo and Just Eat: Inside the dinner delivery business

An investigation of the UK’s low-accountability, multibillion-pound food-delivery industry

 

When is a takeaway not a takeaway? The answer, according to the dubious defences of “disruptors” in the food industry, is when it’s a delivery.

It may sound like a thin semantic argument, one used by Deliveroo in response to the investigations of Panorama’s Takeaway Secrets Exposed (BBC One, Monday, 8.30pm), but it currently has some real consequences in Britain.

Right now, on the outskirts of London, are black windowless containers cooking up some of the high-street brand food to meet spiralling demand, known as “dark kitchens” – flouting strict planning regulations for restaurants because, frankly, who would eat here?

Concentrating on the major players of the online food delivery services, Just Eat and Deliveroo, the BBC Investigation doesn’t quite serve as a big takedown of big takeaway – if you aren’t already ashamed of how easy it is to acquire carbs and calories late at night there may be no saving you – but it exposes the problems of blind trust that consumers have for these shiny virtual shop fronts.

On the simplest level, you may not know where your food is actually coming from. On the more dangerous side, you may not be able to easily determine whether that food is safe to eat.

That is the sorry story of Megan Lee, a Lancashire teenager with a peanut allergy, who died when the food she ordered via Just Eat was inadequately vetted – the owner and manager of Royal Spice were jailed for manslaughter by gross negligence. The go-between, however, escaped censure, exemplars of a business model that seeks maximum profitability and minimal responsibility. In short, don’t shoot the messenger.

Reporter Tina Daheley discovers that Just Eat may rank and promote takeaways with little obvious correspondence to their published hygiene ratings. Two “Local Legends” vouched for via JustEat’s interface are shown to have hygiene ratings of zero, a level that can denote cockroach, rat and mice infestation. Now that’s some takeaway information.

In some ways the whole situation, still mushrooming in a multi-billion pound industry, betrays an abject lack of caution on both sides: the tech companies who developed too fast to establish strictly ethical policies, now hiking up their commissions for a captive market of restaurants, and the consumers too giddy with convenience to open their eyes to consequence.

“It’s a case of asking for forgiveness rather than permission,” a local councillor observes when one London Deliveroo hub leaves one residential neighbourhood besieged with 192 mopeds an hour.

Like a curry of mysterious origin, or a takeaway that’s given to you, that scudding traffic can be a real hazard. It may be a vicious circle, then, that with deliveries at our fingertips and kitchens lying idle, people prefer not to go outside. That’s a vision of society that ought to put you off your food.

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