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DoorDash is one of the largest “local logistics platform” i.e., food delivery firm, with 450,000 merchants, over 20 million consumers, 1 million Dashers (drivers) and 1.2 billion orders completed since the founding. The company has a 50% market share in the U.S. Revenue growth over the last five quarters has averaged over 211% with Q4 2020 revenue growth coming in at 226%. However, the company has lost over $1.2B since inception and lost $312M in Q4 2020. In preview of our summary: the fact the company cannot make money in the most ideal environment for its business model in 2020 is concerning. So is the fact the company has 46 pages of risk factors listed in its 10K.

We also point out that, while we are providing some “food for thought” below, third party delivery is a complex subject and in an enormous state of flux, so we don’t expect that we can answer every potential concern within these pages. We have stated before our reservations about the enormous capitalization of DASH ($42 billion as of today) and our concern about future operating margins for all the major third party delivery companies. Our intention here is to present what we can, in the hope that our work will be useful to the restaurant companies with which we have a working relationship.


The business model is relatively simple.  Once on the DoorDash platform, the company will take orders and deliver those orders for a fee ranging from 15-30%. At the same time, DoorDash charges the customer a service fee and a delivery fee that ranges from 15-25% of the cost of the order. The company pays the driver out of these fees and keeps the rest to operate its business.

DoorDash and the other food delivery companies such as GrubHub and Uber Eats, were primary beneficiaries of governmental policies that either closed or significantly restricted seating options for most restaurants. Adding a delivery service through DoorDash, GrubHub or Uber Eats was one of the few options available to restaurants and was therefore a requirement to stay open. Obviously when demand for your service is almost mandated by the government, you are going to grow your business tremendously.

While DoorDash holds a 50% market share nationally, the company’s dominance is not universal across the country. In many of the major markets the company’s market share is less than 40%, which means that competition remains fierce, and this should keep margins under pressure in the long-term and advertising costs and competition for drivers increases. The lack of customer loyalty, as illustrated by the large overlap of usage of other deliver platforms, is also a long-term problem.


 DoorDash makes money by charging both the restaurant and the customer. While the company does not report its actual fee structure, the practical result is that DoorDash is charging the merchant an average of about 18% of the cost of the order, though that fee is apparently negotiable from 15-30% of the cost of the order. In addition to charging the merchant, DoorDash also charges the customer fees ranging from 12-18% of the order. The average order size is approximately $37 and only 20% of orders are for more than $50. It remains unknown to what extent this is a long term sustainable model, when the profit margin of the restaurant is materially compromised and the customer ends up paying 40% or more above dining within the restaurant or picking up the food themselves. It is also not yet clear to what extent delivery cannibalizes dine-in or pick up sales.

It is important to note that cities are passing “Temporary” Price Control Regulations in response to high delivery fees.In response to companies such as DoorDash charging upwards of 30% of the cost of an order in fees. cities are starting to pass regulations to cap the fees third-party ordering services can charge restaurants. For example, in the company’s Q4 2020 investor letter, DoorDash co-founders, Tony XU and Prabir Adarkar, stated that there are now 73 jurisdictions imposing temporary price controls, which is more than double the 32 jurisdictions in the third quarter. Generally speaking, these price controls cap the amount of delivery fees charged the merchant to 15%. The controls have predictably negatively impacted DoorDash’s profitability.

The company disclosed that the net impact of price controls in Q4 2020 was $36M or 44bps of profitability. The company expects the impact of price controls to almost double in Q1 2021. In the meantime, DoorDash is trying other measures to manage these caps. The company is charging an additional $1 to $2 fee in at least 11 municipalities that have caps in place. In Denver and Chicago, DoorDash began charging customers a $2 “Denver fee” and $1.50 “Chicago fee” per order. While these price controls are said to be temporary, that remains to be seen.


The Restaurants

The pre-tax profit margin of a restaurant generally ranges from 5-10% of revenue at the corporate level. If a restaurant is having to pay DoorDash 15-30% of an order, and DoorDash does a material portion of the sales, the company’s profit margins can easily drop by a couple of hundred basis points. If deliveries become 30-50% of total revenue the company could turn unprofitable. While some of the deliveries may currently be incremental business, and a year ago publicly held companies were accepting that premise, we haven’t heard anyone making that claim recently. While we have no doubt that delivery sales in aggregate will be higher going forward, it is questionable whether the current growth is sustainable because of the high cost to both consumers and restaurants.

In addition, by utilizing drivers from third parties, the restaurant loses the direct relationship with the customer and there is no incentive for the driver to enhance the customer experience with any particular restaurant. This lack of control and incentive could negatively impact the customer’s relationship with the restaurant. Drivers for pizza chains like Domino’s and Papa Johns are more incentivized to enhance the customer experience because they can move up the ladder at these firms and many have eventually become franchisees. There is no upward mobility for drivers at DoorDash.

Every major restaurant chain has its own app that it uses to take orders and communicate with its customers. More importantly, when a customer uses the restaurant’s app, they gain valuable information, such as order size, composition and frequency, that the company can use to improve customer relationships. They can also offer loyalty rewards and other customer-centric offers, such as sales on specific food items.

On the latest Brinker International earnings call, CEO Wyman Roberts said that DoorDash only offers high level information about orders for their Just Wings virtual brand offered on DoorDash. Because they do not share individual customer data, it complicates their marketing and data collection efforts. In the long run, we think most major brands will try to increase customer usage on their proprietary apps and reduce reliance on third-party delivery services for customer acquisition.

As more people go back to work, we believe the necessity of paying huge markups for food delivery will diminish and DoorDash will lose a big tailwind. We also believe that companies like Brinker or Darden that already have large To-Go offerings will try to replace delivery with more To-Go orders. It is a win-win for the company and customers. Customers pay significantly less, even including drive time to pick up their food and the company saves the fee they pay DoorDash. The restaurant leverages their existing infrastructure and gains more valuable data on their customer that can be used to increase sales and profitability. It can also improve kitchen efficiency.

The Consumers

To recover some of the fees, many restaurants are increasing the menu prices for items ordered for delivery. Researchers in Minneapolis recently conducted a case study of delivery platforms to compare pricing and consumer fees.

There are several takeaways from this case study.

Since restaurants appear to be marking up the menu price to recoup most of the DoorDash fee, the customer is paying 40-60% more than they would by eating in the restaurant and this is before the tip. It is therefore clear that DoorDash is the largest beneficiary, in this simplistic example, without considering the customer acquisition cost or the sustainability of the model in terms of satisfying the drivers and food consumers.

The Restaurant Business editorial staff did a test ordering chicken sandwiches from various fast-food concepts. It reported that some editors paid $15 or more for a single sandwich to be delivered. As one editor stated,
“My cost to have Chick-fil-A delivered to my home was roughly the same cost as I paid to east out at a local Mexican restaurant.”

The “Dashers” – a few problems

Similar to Uber and Lyft, the DoorDash business model relies on independent contractors utilizing their own vehicles to provide the service to customers. According to the 10K, there were 1 million Dashers (drivers) and their total earnings were $2B. Though Doordash says on their website that a Dasher can make between $15-$25 an hour, dividing $2B by 1M drivers amounts to $2,000 per year, $167/month, or $40/wk. Since over 90% of Dashers work less than 10 hours a week, this would amount to only about $4.00/hr. The company touts examples in California where Dashers earn $33-$36 an hour working less than 7 hours a week ($1000 a month) in various cities.  We believe these figures are clearly outliers and not representative of the true earnings potential of a Dasher. Moreover, relying on a worker that only wants to work 10 hours a week for less than $167 a month does not seem to us to be a way to maintain a consistent, quality experience for the customer.

There is also a growing political pressure to increase the pay and benefits to so-called “gig workers”. A group in Washington state called Working Washington is running a “Pay Up” campaign to increase the income of these workers. The group published a study on the net income of Dashers in Washington state.  We encourage subscribers to read it. The conclusion was startling, supporting our calculation above:

On average, DoorDash pays just $1.45 per hour worked, after accounting for the expenses of mileage and the additional payroll taxes borne by independent contractors. The average job requires 6.8 miles of driving and takes 30 minutes to complete. “  

As a result of negative publicity and new legislation, the company has already been forced to increase the amount it pays Dasher on a per order basis.  The passage of Proposition 22 in California and the potential for other states to do enact similar legislation could cause the company to raise wages again. As discussed in the 10K, the impact of Proposition 22 on the company were as follows:

Amongst the 46 pages of risks in the 10-K are a few nuggets as they relate to these costs.

  • Several other states where we operate may be considering adopting legislation similar to Proposition 22, which we would expect to increase our costs related to Dashers in such jurisdictions. This could result in lower order volumes if we charge higher fees and commissions and could also adversely impact our results of operations.
  • Several jurisdictions where we operate may be considering adopting legislation that would pair worker flexibility and independence with new protections and benefits. To the extent these are adopted, we would expect the costs related to Dashers in such jurisdictions to increase and we could experience lower order volumes if we charge higher fees and commissions.

The necessity for DoorDash to improve the economic proposition for their Dashers will most likely reduce DoorDash operating margins because the merchants and consumers are already more than adequately burdened.


Before presenting our conclusion, the following post by an industry insider on an investment website supports our concerns.:

As the pandemic winds down, it should be no surprise that recent guidance shows sharp deceleration in revenue growth for 2021.In the Q4 2020 earnings release and shareholder letter, the company issued guidance for 2021. While the company guided for 187% growth in revenue in Q1, revenue growth for all of 2021 is only expected to be 28%. This is a significant deceleration from the 200%+ growth in 2020. Wall Street is expecting revenue growth in 2022 to slow ever further to 26%. In addition, because of the increasing costs and limits on fee and commissions discussed above, the company guided adjusted EBTIDA to $0-$200M, considerably below the $250M Wall Street was expecting going into 2021. Underlying the slower growth, we think it likely that as more people go back to work, we believe the necessity of paying huge markups for food delivery will diminish. We also believe that companies like Brinker or Darden that already have large To-Go offerings will try to replace delivery with more To-Go orders. It would be a win-win for the company and customers, as customers pay less, even including drive time to pick up their food and the merchant saves the DoorDash fee. The restaurant also gains the valuable customer data that can be used to increase sales and profitability.

We believe the DoorDash business model is far from sustainable in its present form. It is especially concerning that DASH has reported nothing but red ink in an environment so enormously supportive of third party delivery agents. Though the stock is 50% off its highs, we do not think the Enterprise Value, still over $40 billion, is justifiable. The EV multiple is over 10x 2021 projected sales and an indeterminate multiple of the ridiculously large guided range of Adjusted EBITDA from zero to $200M. We are not long or short the stock, just saying 😊

Roger Lipton




Restaurant companies are unanimous in their pursuit of delivery as one of the huge opportunities to increase the productivity of their physical plants. Too much square footage continues to be a burden on productivity, especially when it takes labor at $15.00 (ex the tip credit) per hour to service the space. It’s also clear by this time that control over the “last mile” is of major concern to restaurant operators. Not only is the reputation of The Brand at stake, but valuable information relative to the customers is in the hands of the third party agent, potentially not as useful to the food provider.

A reality of this new source of business is that margins for the restaurant company will be affected since 15-30% of the ticket is paid to the delivery agent. While some argue that a large portion of the delivery dollars is “incremental”, it stands to reason that a customer who receives product at home on Wednesday night is less likely to visit that restaurant on Thursday or Friday. On the hopeful side: delivery companies are already competing for market share, negotiating their fees lower, therefore improving the remaining margin for the restaurant. Overall, this is clearly a portion of dining dollars that is very much in a state of flux.


Two articles caught our eye in the last day or so, in the New York Times and the New York Post, describing the reality of “the last mile”, and it’s not pretty.

The Post described how a delivery worker (from DoorDash) punched a pizza store employee in the head because the order wasn’t ready for pickup. We are not trying to focus on DoorDash (DD) in particular, because this could happen with any third party agent, but another DD employee posted a negative review on Yelp because the food “trash” wasn’t ready on time. Another DD hire made a scene after getting a parking ticket while waiting for a delivery pickup. Since delivery agents, including DD, UberEats, Postmates and others,  get paid primarily for completed deliveries and little, if anything,  for waiting time, they are obviously very sensitive to availability of the order. At the same time, restaurant employees, including one cited at (well run) Cheescake Factory, are not necessarily treating the delivery person with great courtesy. Another potential problem, as pointed out by a group of restaurant operators in Los Angeles, is that delivery agents are not trained in food handling and temperature maintenance standards. One LA based operator said “If a customer gets hepatitis they are going to sue the restaurant.” Another stomach turning pitfall, as described, is the hungry delivery person that helps themself to part of the milkshake or a couple of the ribs. All of this can be considered “anecdotal”, but proper selection and training for third party agents is no doubt far from optimal at this early point in the evolution of the food delivery industry. Parenthetically, stock investors might well keep all of this in mind before they pay a huge valuation for DoorDash when it comes public.

The New York Times described the experience of a bicycle delivery person in Manhattan, obviously a unique market, but still indicative of urban issues. The bicycle person, working for UberEats as well as Postmates, had continuous decisions on the run to make, all while anticipating traffic patterns and potential delays. Should he pick up several orders at a Mexican restaurant five blocks away for UberEats, or divert to two orders for Postmates at Shake Shack that was a little closer. As he said “I had to decide: take on three orders at once and risk falling behind? Stick with UberEats, which was running a $10 bonus for doing six deliveries by 1:30, or try for a Postmates bonus? Information was limited. The UberEats app doesn’t tell you where the delivery is going until you pick it up. I could not know what the Postmates job would pay. The Postmates clock ticked down – you have seconds to accept or decline an order. I was threading my way around lurching honking trucks and oblivious texting pedestrians and watching for cops and looking down at the phone mounted on my handlebars and calculating delivery times.”

The article goes on to describe the intense competition among companies like Grubhub’s Seamless, UberEats, Caviar, DoorDash and Postmates, and delivery agents are often representing more than one company. The restaurants have been forced into the e-commerce business, outsourcing their product to the hands of a fleet of freelance personnel who may or may not appropriately represent the restaurant Brand. Especially as competition has increased, the net hourly pay for delivery agents has become closer to $10/hour than $20, sometimes even less than $10. We can only imagine the professional skills, or lack thereof, of a person that is going to subject themselves to this kind of pressure for that kind of wage. There are a myriad of other hurdles that delivery agents in urban areas will have to deal with, but that will vary by venue. We can say with assurance, however, just as above described in suburbia, there is huge work to be done to iron out the issues, reduce the risk, and improve the profitability for the restaurant operator.


The challenge remains to make delivery incrementally profitable, without taking on a huge risk to The Brand in the process. To whatever extent possible, maximum control over the delivery process should be at The Brand level. In the meantime, takeout and curbside pickup may be convenient enough to maintain market share, without incurring the risks as described above. Perhaps orders, above a certain size at limited times of the day within a certain radius, can be delivered by properly trained store level employees. There is a large market to be served, but not necessarily at the risk of The Brand.

Roger Lipton



We will know more specifically, as companies start to report results,  in the next several weeks how the second calendar quarter developed relative to sales and traffic. Anecdotally (see Postscript below), however, we hear nothing particularly encouraging. The late spring early summer numbers that showed sales up low single digits and traffic down low single digits seems to be continuing (see Postscript below), which has basically been the case for the last two years. Quick service restaurants that provide a midday (food) fuel stop seem to be holding up a bit better than full service casual dining companies that are required to provide an experience to help  justify the much higher average ticket. While wage rates are moving higher, discretionary income is not. Five dollars is the favored price point at lunch, but when a family of four sits down for a full service meal at Applebee’s, it is going to run upwards of $50.00 with tax and tip and that is a noticeable after tax expenditure. The weather was unsettled in many parts of the country in the last couple of months and that can also affect traffic by a point or two which is the difference between “strong”, “mediocre”, or “weak” sales these days. A constant drumbeat from newscasters about tariffs is affecting not only the business world but dining customers who understand that budgets have to balance at some point. National economic discourse, where debt doesn’t matter to the existing administration and unlimited social programs are the mantra for the Democratic contenders, is no doubt further unsettling relative to consumer confidence. Without question, for any number of reasons, the economy is slowing. Sales and traffic trends are unlikely to buck this reality, and we will let you know when they do.

From an operator’s standpoint: they continue to be pleased by a more business friendly environment. However, you can’t pay the rent with an intangible such as “less regulation” and lower taxes was last year’s story. Wages move inexorably higher, and there is no material expense that is moving lower. The only thing that can help restaurant margins is higher sales, and one or two points of sales improvment is not enough to overcome higher costs. Our expectation, therefore, is for more of the same as Q2 reports are made public. The better operators will come close to maintaining margins, but most year to year comparisons will not look good. The lower tax rates last year allowed many companies to show strong year to year after tax earnings, though pretax operating earnings were down in many cases,  but that will not be repeated in 2019. Stock repurchases could help some companies, but fewer than last year as some companies have already leveraged their balance sheets.

We leave you with some good news. (There had to be something, right?) Though too many operators are sitting with real estate that is fully utilized only on Friday and Saturday nights, there remains a great deal of opportunity relative to food consumed “offsite”. Curbside pickup, takeout, and catering all offer opportunity, though they are different business to a degree and must be managed accordingly. At least you don’t need more square footage. Furthermore, margins on delivery service should start to improve as Doordash, Ubereats, Grubhub and the others compete for business. Delivery is a necessary evil these days, but restaurant companies can’t afford to cut 20-30 points out of their gross margin. Many operators have suggested that delivery business is largely incremental. We accept that delivery is incremental, in part, but it stands to reason that if a customer has food delivered tonight, they are far less likely to visit that same restaurant tomorrow night. Delivery will be become more profitable (at least less of a burden on margins), and delivery companies will experience margin contraction, which they may or may not be able to offset with operating efficiencies.

Roger Lipton

P.S.  No longer “anecdotal”. Just received the highly regarded Miller Pulse survey results through June. Headline is positive (“June Sales Cap Off a Solid Second Quarter”) but details show more of the same. Overall restaurant same store sales rose 2.0% in June, up 2.1% for Q2 as a whole. The QSR segment was up 2.3% and Casual Dining was up 0.4% in June. The 2.0% result in June was, as Miller Pulse put it “a model of consistency, remaining in the narrow 2.0-2.3% range since the dip in February”. Importantly, “traffic, as is the norm these days, was weak again at -1.7% for the month”. In summary, the numbers confirmed our anecdotal conclusions.