Sales seem to have taken off with the cute Starship Technologies delivery robots in Bowling Green, but some local restaurants have stopped using them.
Zach Baroudi, the owner of Kabob It, a Mediterranean restaurant on East Wooster Street, posted on social media on Wednesday about his trouble getting payments from Starship.
“We have resolved the issue since the message. It’s resolved now,” Baroudi said. “There was a problem with the payment.”
Starship Enterprises did not respond to questions for this article.
Baroudi said after a “double-digit” number of phone calls, payment was made by Starship.
He said a similar incident of months without payment also happened to him in the fall.
“That’s why I’m frustrated. I was frustrated. I’m still frustrated, but I won’t do business with them again,” Baroudi said. “I took all their stuff and told them to come get their iPads.”
He said his Starship contact called the issues “minor issues in a new business.” However, Baroudi said, “they aren’t brand new anymore.”
The first white, six-wheeled Starship delivery robots appeared on the Bowling Green State University campus in February 2020. There are currently more than 60 of the robots, which have their local base on campus.
Initially, the robots had limited delivery on or near campus, but they have since expanded to off-campus locations across the city.
Steven Sterling of Sterling Amish Deli, also on East Wooster, said he was having trouble getting payment from Starship.
Sterling said he started working with the service in January and only received one payment for a two-week period.
Both companies have drawn comparisons to DoorDash and GrubHub, which are also helpful to them.
“As a small business owner, I don’t like these platforms. I prefer (customers) to order through me because (delivery services) take such a big chunk,” Baroudi said. “But I respect the platforms because it attracts customers, and they hold their end of the bargain and refund you when you get paid.”
He said he receives several orders daily from Starship.
“Their whole platform is way behind. It’s not user-friendly,” Sterling said. “They have a lot of issues to deal with. It’s a fanciful concept.
He listed the problems, including the inability to change menus and change opening hours. These changes had to be announced.
After telling Starship he wouldn’t work with them until they made their payments, orders kept coming in, Sterling said. Then the company remotely accessed his iPad, sending him emails about order processing speed and unfulfilled orders.
That’s when Sterling said he discovered the tablet provided by Starship couldn’t be turned off. He wrapped it in a blanket and put it away until the battery ran out.
“I decided there would be no more orders until I got paid, but the orders kept coming in,” Sterling said. “I threw it in the closet, so I didn’t have to hear it.”
His first payment arrived on May 3. Sterling said it took four months for the first payment to arrive.
Sterling said other companies send payment almost immediately.
“I donated thousands of dollars worth of food, and I don’t have the money for it. It’s very damaging,” Sterling said. “It’s a big problem.”
When robots were first offered as a delivery option, he wasn’t interested because he said it took jobs away from drivers.
“I wasn’t interested at all. I said I wasn’t doing that, but pretty soon everyone started jumping on the bandwagon and joining,” Sterling said of the app. “Freshmen didn’t see my restaurant they have no idea who I am so I said now I have no choice. Then I joined.
He has not decided to sever ties with Starship.
“It’s tough. We’ll see how it goes,” Sterling said.
On the plus side, Sterling said the Starship service has driven additional orders and has a lower cost than other services it uses. Starship surcharge is 20% while he said other services charge 30%.
“At the current rate of prices, you can’t afford to lose anything,” Sterling said of the impact of inflation and economic swings he has experienced during the pandemic.
On Friday, the Starship app showed Sterling’s Amish Deli temporarily closed.