Gratuity is, by definition, gratuitous—a sum you pay on top of another sum for a service rendered, duh. Maybe you pay gratuity because you want to say thanks for a job well done, or maybe you do it just because it's polite, dare I say humane, to reward the person who just biked 30 sweaty minutes—through the heat wave from which you are currently hiding, because you ordered cold and refreshing food items to your home—at a below-minimum-wage rate. Whatever. A tip is extra money that's supposed to go directly to the person doing the thing for you, and not into the pocket of the corporation that employs them. Or so argues a class-action lawsuit a peeved Brooklyn man filed against DoorDash, a food delivery service recently accused of grifting both its workers and customers alike.
Alan Arkin estimates that he has placed delivery orders with DoorDash, a California-based food courier, on roughly 38 occasions. He says he added gratuity through the app every time, assuming that those sums would be tacked onto the cost of his meals—a little extra cash for the person who brought it to his door. And so he was dismayed to learn, upon reading NY Times reporter Andy Newman's account of his undercover stint as a rider for on-demand delivery apps, that DoorDash absorbs whatever tip a customer adds through the app into the minimum fee it guarantees the worker. So, if a rider is promised $10 to complete an order, and the customer tips nothing, the rider gets $10, paid entirely by DoorDash; if the customer tips $2, the rider... still gets $10, with DoorDash paying $8 and the customer unwittingly paying $2. All parties except the corporation get scammed, according to the lawsuit.
The app's tipping scheme has been this way since 2017, according to the Times, but because it's counterintuitive, it seems not everyone noticed. And while the company itself maintains that riders get more money this way, and therefore prefer the model, many consumers feel queasy about it.
"Had Plaintiff and other customers known that by entering a tip on the DoorDash app they were simply contributing to DoorDash's bottom line, they never would have agreed to pay a tip using the DoorDash app," Arkin's lawsuit reads. Instead, the company "mislead consumers and the public," making them believe that their tips would go directly to one of the approximately 400,000 "Dashers" who delivered their food.
"Defendant knew and failed to disclose that all or part of the tip amount entered into the DoorDash app would go to DoorDash to subsidize its cost of business and would not reward the Dasher for good service," the suit continues.
Arkin's suit welcomes all other customers who feel similarly bamboozled by the company's quiet siphoning away of tips to join as plaintiffs, and there seem to be quite a few: Three days after Newman's article published, DoorDash announced that it would change its gratuity policy to more closely resemble actual gratuity, due to widespread outrage at what really looks, feels, and smells like a swindle.
"Going forward, we're changing our model," DoorDash chief executive, Tony Xu, tweeted. "The new model will ensure that Dashers' earnings will increase by the exact amount a customer tips on every order. We'll have specific details in the coming days."
4/ Going forward, we’re changing our model - the new model will ensure that Dashers’ earnings will increase by the exact amount a customer tips on every order. We’ll have specific details in the coming days.
— Tony Xu (@t_xu) July 24, 2019
DoorDash was also accused of misleading customers in 2016, by hiking up the prices of restaurants' menu items within the app: A sandwich on which you'd spend $15 in-store, for example, became $21 when purchased via DoorDash, without the company saying anything about the discrepancy. At the time, Xu vowed to list the "service fee as a separate cost from menu prices," in an effort to improve transparency. But even now, some customers don't feel DoorDash has been transparent enough.
"No reasonable person would enter a tip on that app knowing that what they're doing is going to a multibillion-dollar tech company," Arkin told the NY Post. "It's basically a way to make a multibilllion-dollar tech company even richer."