Move puts restaurants within city limits on a level playing field with those in unincorporated Mill Valley after Marin County Board of Supervisors passed the cap last month.
It’s been nearly four months since the inception of a shelter in place order that has forced Mill Valley restaurants to rely heavily on takeout and delivery service to compensate for vastly reduced dining options amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

In that time, local restaurants have taken advantage of a burst in outdoor dining options in both public and private spaces, but they’ve also had to navigate an ever-changing landscape that saw the County of Marin’s approval of the long-awaited indoor dining before putting the kibosh on it less than a week later when Gov. Newsom put Marin on the state’s COVID-19 Watch List because of rising Marin’s positive case rate per 100,000 people, as well as its percentage change of the three-day average of hospitalizations for coronavirus patients.

It’s with all of that in mind that the Mill Valley City Council unanimously approved a 15 percent cap on the fees that app-based restaurant delivery services can charge. The regulation would remain in effect until the city lifts its state of emergency, which is currently scheduled for Nov. 30, when similar emergency measures allowing for temporary use of outdoor public and private space around town are set to expire.

“Some might characterize (these services) as price gouging as they are in much higher demand (during the COVID-19 crisis) than they were previously,” City Attorney Inder Khalsa told the Council in introducing the proposal. 

“It’s not fair to the restaurants to be squeezed on both ends with the delivery services taking such a large cut,” Mayor Sashi McEntee said in voting to approve the resolution. 

“I generally having an abhorrence of government getting in between businesses,” Vice Mayor John McCauley added. We have a market economy. But this is not a market situation. Restaurants have been closed by the county, and that has put them in an extremely difficult situation. Because of that, I am supportive of this restriction.”

The move comes 18 days after the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved the same cap for unincorporated Marin, which includes Strawberry, Tam Junction and parts of Alto. That approval created a situation in which restaurants within city limits would be paying higher delivery fees, significantly so in some cases, than their counterparts in unincorporated Mill Valley.

“Restaurants that are right outside our city limits are competing at an advantage right now,” Councilman Urban Carmel said. “It makes sense for us to have the same level playing field in the City of Mill Valley.”

The Council’s action comes amidst a flurry of activity in the delivery space, as Uber has agreed to acquire the food delivery start-up Postmates for $2.65 billion and Grubhub recently reached a deal to be bought by European food delivery service Just Eat Takeaway for $7.3 billion.

Despite this activity, widespread reports indicate that nearly everyone involved in these delivery transactions are losing money, from delivery drivers to restaurants. That includes the delivery services themselves, as Grubhub lost $33 million on $360 million of revenue in Q1, DoorDash lost $450 million on $900 million in 2019, and Uber Eats reportedly lost $461 million on $734 million in Q4 of last year, according to Ranjan Roy.

​Looking to make buying and dining decisions that benefit your neighbors and your community? Here are some resources:

Here’s Why You Should Pickup Your Takeout From Mill Valley Restaurants – or Get Delivery By a Local Service

Eat Up & Show Love: Here Are the Local Restaurants Serving Up Delicious Food Via Take Out & Delivery

Support Mill Valley Businesses As We Reopen, Safely – Here’s Who’s Open, Closed and Innovating!

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