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Seattle Tech Company Wants to Help Local Restaurants Cut Out the Grubhub Middleman

Gravity Payments hopes to assist online ordering setups during the COVID-19 crisis

A computer key that shows an icon of a plate with a knife and fork
Gravity Payments, based in Ballard, is shifting more into online ordering support.

Many have criticized Grubhub, Uber Eats, Caviar, and other third-party restaurant ordering apps for high commission fees and dubious business practices. Seattle recently issued an emergency order to cap those fees at 15 percent to help during the COVID-19 crisis. But the apps still may take out a good portion of the bottom line, and without many viable alternatives, Seattle restaurants still rely on them a great deal. Ballard-based credit card processor Gravity Payments now hopes it can offer a better solution.

Five years ago, the company made national headlines for instituting a $70,000 per year minimum for all its employees. Founder Dan Price has been hailed as an innovator and sometimes derided as a publicity-seeker, but hasn’t wavered from his egalitarian workplace philosophy, even as revenues for the company have dropped precipitously in recent weeks. That turn of fortune has been tied to several Seattle-based restaurant clients, which make up 15 percent of Gravity’s portfolio. Those include notable local places, such as the Filipino spot Musang in Beacon Hill, which is planning to roll out a robust takeout menu May 6. Many clients have seen business down as much as 80 percent or more during Washington’s stay-at-home order, prompting Price and his staff to brainstorm possible ways to step in.

Though Gravity Payments usually focuses on integrating credit card processing in point of sale software, it’s now offering to help restaurants create better online takeout menus, something that wasn’t focus of its business plan before. “We have a program basically where you could just take orders on your website or from any mobile phone and you then keep 100 percent of the revenue,” says Price. “You don’t have to give up a commission to Uber Eats or anybody else. And we’re seeing a lot of our clients have a huge amount of success with that.”

Price says some restaurants — including the Spanish spot Castilla in Bellevue and Shiku Sushi in Ballard — have seen some success with the ordering platform, which is done in partnership with GloriaFood. Gravity Payments takes care of all the set up for online menus and ordering via Facebook as well. If restaurants want to integrate online credit card payments into the system, there’s a $30 monthly charge with no commission fee — but if they just want the basic setup, Gravity Payments offers to do that completely free. Even for restaurants starting from scratch, Price says a whole online ordering system can be completed in one to two days.

There’s no delivery component to its services right now, which may put Gravity at a disadvantage when it comes to other companies that are more one-stop shops. For instance, reservation apps like Tock, OpenTable, and Resy have made drastic changes to their business models recently, adjusting for a new takeout and delivery-only reality. But Price notes that takeout orders likely boost restaurants the most financially. Indeed, without third-party apps, delivery is an expensive and complicated proposition for restaurants who have never done it before, while takeout is easier to implement.

But Gravity still has to compete with many larger companies, such as Stripe, that also offer online payment solutions. Addo’s Eric Rivera — among the more tech savvy chefs in the city — uses Tock and Stripe for his online ordering system, but has looked into how Gravity might fit into his plan. “We are trying to figure out a program with Gravity to handle the payment processing that we use with Stripe, but we are not there yet,” he says. “I do like what they stand for, and they are located about a half a mile from us, so that’s cool too. Their CEO even reached out to me, which I was definitely surprised with.”

It’s that personal and local touch that Gravity hopes will make its services more appealing to restaurants, especially those that have bare bones online ordering — or none at all. With GrubHub, Uber Eats, and others still a big part of the picture, one more option likely doesn’t hurt. Says Price, “Tech companies don’t have a good track record of doing the right thing when they don’t need to, so the more that the restaurant can come up with alternatives, the more that collectively those apps will feel that competition.”