SARATOGA COUNTY — Saratoga County could become the next county to put a cap on what third-party meal delivery services can charge restaurants for their services during the pandemic, as restaurants face capacity limits and much of the public still fears eating out.
The county Board of Supervisors is considering a proposal to cap the fee charged to restaurants by the services at 15 percent, and will vote later this month on scheduling a public hearing on a proposed local law for a March 5 meeting in Ballston Spa.
If supervisors follow through, Saratoga County would join Schenectady and Albany counties locally, as well as Westchester County and New York City, in capping the fees charged to restaurants by third-party food delivery services such as GrubHub, DoorDash and UberEats.
All have adopted local laws with a 15-percent cap, as well as a 5-percent cap on the charge when customers use the service’s app to place an order, but then pick up the food themselves.
“I’ve had a number of restaurants contact me, and I’m sure other supervisors too have been contacted, to move forward on the county capping delivery fees,” said Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett, who sponsored the local law this week.
Board Chairman Todd Kusnierz, R-Moreau, also said capping delivery fees should be among the county’s priorities as it responds to the pandemic.
Any cap would only apply during a time of emergency and for 90 days after the emergency ends, since the belief that the unusual circumstances of the pandemic — with delivery service abruptly in unexpectedly high demand — have led to delivery services in some cases charging exorbitant fees to the restaurants.
The cap isn’t meant to be permanent, Barrett said.
“This is a temporary opportunity for us to help our restaurants to stay in business, that’s what it comes down to,” Barrett said. “I normally believe the market should set the price, but there is no normal market now.”
Restaurants are already struggling financially during the pandemic, with seating capacity limited to 50 percent by executive order. The New York State Restaurant Association is among the organizations that has come out in favor of capping delivery fees.
The move to cap fees began in larger cities, including New York City, last summer, when delivery companies were first accused of price-gouging. It is in part a response to a huge increase in delivery service demand during the pandemic.
The delivery-services industry contends it benefits restaurants despite the fees charged, by bringing them more business while also providing a convenience to customers. The industry also contends fee caps are illegal.
The proposed law also prohibits the services from increasing other fees on restaurants or customers, or reducing driver compensation.
The county wouldn’t get involved in enforcement, according to the draft law. It proposes that a restaurant charged excessive fees would make a written demand for a refund, and if the demand weren’t met, the ultimate solution would be for the restaurant to take the delivery service to court.