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May 6, 2021

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Hot food delivery options expand in Clark County

Restaurants partner with app-based businesses; in Camas, Washougal you can Skip the Trip

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:
3 Photos
Skip the Trip delivery has been working with Washougal Times for more than a year.
Skip the Trip delivery has been working with Washougal Times for more than a year. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County has a number of options for hot food delivery from restaurants. App-based businesses such as DoorDash and GrubHub are slowly gaining a small foothold, but they come with side effects: customers sometimes find cold food at their doorstep for a high price and restaurants sacrifice profit margin on the orders.

There’s also a locally owned food delivery option in Camas and Washougal called Skip the Trip that hopes to expand to all of Vancouver soon, but for the majority of residents in the county, the options are mostly with the big companies.

And despite some of the complaints, the companies are employing more people in Vancouver who can’t find jobs elsewhere because of a poor job market.

“Anyone can sign up and make 100 bucks in a day pretty quickly,” said David Gascon, driver for DoorDash. “That’s amazing, especially during COVID.”

Many local restaurateurs have partnered with food delivery companies DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub out of necessity. Steve Valenta, the owner of Mighty Bowl, said the delivery companies charge a high fee to the restaurants, eating up the profit margin. In November, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order that puts a 15 percent cap on what delivery service companies charge restaurants.

Before the pandemic, Valenta said he couldn’t justify doing business with Postmates, Grubhub or DoorDash, despite negotiating with them for more than a year. Before the pandemic, the companies were pushing a 30 percent fee to restaurants.

“We couldn’t make numbers work pre-COVID,” Valenta said. “Post-COVID, it’s out of desperation. Whatever it takes to keep the business going and prevent staff from standing around.”

Sunny Parsons, co-owner of Heathen Brewing, agreed with Valenta: “There’s just no money in it for us,” Parsons said. “It’s more about trying to pump some volume into the restaurant.”

Valenta said about 10 percent of his restaurant’s revenue comes from home delivery, and it’s slowly rising.

“I don’t know if we’re making money with it yet,” he said. “The volume is low, but it’s exposure.”

Portland’s advantage

In Portland, the delivery companies are more woven into the city’s fiber due to the population density. Valenta said the business models seem to work better in more dense areas, but in Vancouver, people live farther apart, which means longer drives, greater delivery fees and colder food.

“You’ve got so much ground to cover it makes it more expensive if you pay more per mile,” he said.

Many locals in Vancouver have tried delivery services, but knowing that DoorDash and other companies charge high fees to their beloved restaurants isn’t appetizing to some customers.

“Totally order and pickup directly from the business,” wrote Kari Mitchell in a message to The Columbian. “If we want those small, locally owned businesses to stay afloat, give your money to them and not these ‘services.’ ”

“I tried DoorDash and GrubHub and the fees and such were not worth it and I just felt lazy for not going to pick it up myself. I instead order out and pick up and then tip the restaurant more rather than pay for delivery,” wrote Jennifer Fitzgerald in a message to The Columbian.

Gascon, the driver for DoorDash, said he signed up with the company on Christmas as “sort of a joke” to see if he could make enough to go on a vacation. Within an hour, he was delivering food.

“I tried it for a couple of nights, and I really enjoy it,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d like it as much as I do.”

Gascon said he delivers about 2½ orders an hour on average. Each order has a $9 or $10 return, which means he makes about $21 per hour after gas and expenses.

As a tip to buyers, Gascon said that people should always try to use the restaurants’ website first.

“If you order through the DoorDash app, DoorDash keeps 50 percent of the order, plus fees,” he said. “If you order through the merchant’s website, I’ve heard it’s quite a bit less. That was a surprise when I heard about it.”

Skip the Trip

There’s one food delivery company in Washougal and Camas that’s finding success on a smaller scale than DoorDash, but with a feel-good, community-oriented focus.

Skip the Trip, co-owned by Katie O’Daniel, began in October 2019 as a small company that partnered with local restaurants. The company employs six independent contract drivers who are screened and wear uniforms, unlike most of the corporate delivery food services. It also partners with local restaurants and, in most cases, doesn’t charge a service fee. The company’s website is www.skipthetripmenus.com.

“We like to keep it local,” O’Daniel said. “It’s gotten a lot more successful.”

The business model is similar to the bigger companies: Customers visit the site, or use the Apple or Android app, where they find restaurant menus. Customers select the items they want and place the order through the website. The orders arrive at the restaurants and the drivers at the same time, and Skip the Trip drivers always take the orders (sometimes GrubHub, Uber Eats and other companies don’t have drivers willing to get the food and it is never picked up).

Skip the Trip charges a delivery fee of $2.99 plus an additional 50 cents per mile for deliveries more than five miles away.

O’Daniel said the company delivers into east Vancouver, but she hopes to soon expand it to all of Vancouver. She also plans on hiring two more drivers within a month to meet the growing demand for her business.

She said that the company has anywhere between 15 and 60 orders a day.

“It’s very up and down,” she said. “Some days we’re extremely busy.”

O’Daniel’s job consists mostly of monitoring dispatch for the drivers, but she’s impressed with the culture that they’ve all created; she calls them a family.

“Without the drivers, we wouldn’t be able to run,” she said. “They go out of their way to help out.”

O’Daniel said she is taking requests for partnerships with more restaurants, but only as far as east Vancouver. She isn’t sure when she will expand westward.

One of the more popular restaurants she partners with is Washougal Times, at 1826 E St. The restaurant, which specializes in American classics such as burgers and steaks, has been with her from the beginning.

Owner and General Manager Ben Jackson said anywhere between a quarter to half of his daily revenue comes from Skip the Trip orders — a much higher yield than most restaurants using any delivery service.

“It’s a free service for me,” he said. “It’s free business.”

Jackson said he doesn’t use any other delivery services because they take a high percentage of sales.

“It doesn’t pencil out at the end of the day,” he said. “I’d rather stay with local homegrown Katie and Skip the Trip.”

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