A Florida restaurant group has sued Google for allegedly prioritizing food delivery apps over directing users to an establishment's own website.
The lawsuit, filed in Northern California District Court on March 8 by Left Field Holdings, alleges that Google would allow users to place an order through search directly via an "order online" button that takes users to another Google ordering webpage, where orders are sold to food delivery companies.
While this system may allow users to more easily place orders, it does so to the detriment of restaurants. Delivery apps charge fees as high as 20%, which is why restaurants prefer customers order with them directly.
The lawsuit (see below) says the strategy amounts to a "bait-and-switch."
"Google never bothered to obtain permission from the restaurants to sell their products online," the lawsuit alleges. "Google purposefully designed its websites to appear to the user to be offered, sponsored and approved by the restaurant, when they are not."
Google defended the process as providing a service to its users, adding that it receives no compensation through the feature.
"Our goal is to connect customers with restaurants they want to order food from and make it easier for them to do it through the 'Order Online' button," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNET. "We provide tools for merchants to indicate whether they support online orders or prefer a specific provider, including their own ordering website. We do not receive any compensation for orders or integrations with this feature."
It also appears that merchants can opt out of the "Order Online" button, something that Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, a restaurant chain owned by Left Field Holdings, has opted to do in its University of Miami location.
The "Order Online" button stems from Google's acquisition of The Ordering App, according to Ars Technica. The app is designed for "restaurants to help customers order more seamlessly from the Google Business Profile," according to a Salesforce page about the app. The lawsuit alleges Google could have shifted The Ordering App from helping restaurants to instead helping delivery apps.
When clicking on the "Order Now" button on Google Maps, it takes users to a webpage showing various food ordering apps. In the case of Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, we saw Uber Eats, Postmates, Caviar and DoorDash.
"Google prominently features the restaurant's tradename at the top of the page, above the restaurant's address and menu, to give the user the distinct impression that the storefront and products are authorized and sponsored by the restaurant, when they are not," according to the lawsuit.
The complaint goes on to echo the sentiments of other restaurant owners, saying that onerous fees prevent establishments from making a profit on delivery app orders. According to Left Field Holdings, the only reason restaurants do business with these apps is that it gives it added exposure.
Left Field Holdings is seeking a class action against Google, alleging "tens of thousands" of potential plaintiffs may have had "millions of customers" veered by Google.