Restaurant Group Sues Google Over ‘Order Online’ Feature

The lawsuit pushes back against directing search-engine users to place orders via third-party delivery apps.

March 16, 2022

A customer Google Searching Restaurants

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—A Florida restaurant group filed a lawsuit against Google for creating unauthorized pages to capture food orders rather than directing them to the restaurant’s own site, reports Ars Technica.

The lawsuit claims that Google is using “bait-and-switch” tactics to get customers to order food through “new, unauthorized, and deceptively branded webpages,” according to the lawsuit filed by Left Field Holdings, a restaurant company that runs Lime Fresh Mexican Grill franchises.

The pages that Google uses have large buttons that prompt users to order with third-party food delivery companies. The lawsuit says that due to how Google’s “Order Online” feature is designed, it limits restaurants’ chances of taking orders directly.

“Google never bothered to obtain permission from the restaurants to sell their products online,” the lawsuit says. “Google purposefully designed its websites to appear to the user to be offered, sponsored, and approved by the restaurant, when they are not—a tactic, no doubt, employed by Google to increase orders and clicks.”

Google is fighting the lawsuit and disputed “the mischaracterizations of our product” in a statement to Ars.

“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,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda told Ars. “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.”

Ars reports that the “Order Online” button is a result from a Google acquisition known as “The Ordering App,” a site that was originally marketed toward restaurants, but the lawsuit alleges that at some point Google decided to market it to food delivery companies instead.

When customers click the “Order Online” button, they are directed to a page that contains links to food delivery companies and their logos. The restaurant is also listed and linked, but it’s a small, generic “website” button.

If restaurants have completed the “Order Online” setup with Google, the search site can also direct customers to restaurants’ own online ordering services. Yet because many restaurants’ ordering sites are run by third parties, those links may not contain a restaurant’s name.

“Google’s ‘Order Online’ button leads to an unauthorized online storefront—one owned and controlled by Google—wherein consumers can place orders for the restaurant’s products, all under the restaurant’s tradename,” the lawsuit says.

“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,” the lawsuit maintains.

Given the number of restaurants in the U.S., the lawyers representing Left Field Holdings are seeking class action, saying they believe there are “tens of thousands” of potential plaintiffs. “Since launching its unauthorized Storefront, Google has hijacked millions of customers and orders,” the lawsuit alleges.

Third-party delivery apps charge restaurants high fees, ranging from 15-30%, which cut into the restaurant’s profits, if they make any at all.

In order to meet the customer’s need for delivery, many convenience stores are turning to third-party delivery providers, but partnering with these companies comes at a cost. According to NACS’ “Last Mile Fulfillment in Convenience Retail” report, only 61% of retailers are satisfied with their third-party delivery partners. Concerns include high fees, little access to consumer data, difficulties delivering age-restricted products and service and operational issues. Read more about these challenges and what c-stores are doing to make delivery work for their businesses in “Delivering Convenience” in the December 2021 issue of NACS Magazine.