I’m sure you all know this story. A group of plucky and determined men sit around a space in one of their homes. They have an idea and it’s going to change everything. That’s certainly where the rags to riches of Waitr Inc. (now in over 200 cities) began. They had a couple of savvy businessmen and coders and a charismatic dreamer at the helm. I remember the early days of Waitr, everyone cramped into an office in a university incubator. I remember that charismatic dreamer promising time and again that this was a different type of company. It was a t-shirt and jeans operation. It was a place where we took care of our people. That’s what really appealed to me. It really did feel like this grass roots community that was going to be big and it was going to get there without screwing people over. I preached the gospel of Waitr to anyone who would listen. ‘Yeah, it’s a tech company from Southwest Louisiana. Can you believe it? And they really do care about their people and the communities.’ That was their argument. They worked with mom and pop restaurants to get their menus out there. They had a sliding scale for how restaurants could pay for the equipment so that these little hometown eateries could actually compete with the big dogs. I did my internship there as a consultant. I worked as a delivery driver. I worked in new restaurant input. I worked in quality control. Everyone apart of this group worked in multiple positions because they too believed in Waitr.
And in the beginning, it really did look like Waitr was going to be something different. My wife was having trouble finding a job in her field, so they got her a job, and they trained her. She started in the early days too, and she was fierce. They started her out doing delivery driver coordination. She worked the phones, got in touch with restaurants, and helped the drivers stay on track. On her own time, she trained to do menu entry and eventually quality control, and she moved up in the ranks. When we went back to Florida, they let her stay on as a remote worker. ‘No problem’, they said; ‘all your work is on computers anyway’. Since starting in 2016, she has taken on training responsibilities for new hires, managed scheduling for her department, and worked on interdepartmental operations. They moved her from hourly to salary. She’d been there for years, and on June 27, 2019 along with 80 other people she was fired.
I want to stress that this came as a shock because of the company that I described above. For a minute there, Waitr really was different. It really was something special. The changes started slowly. They’d bring in medium sized chains and franchise groups. Wait, isn’t their whole deal supposed to be “Eat Local?” The whole appeal of the company, from my perspective was that they brought main street to your front door. Back in 2016, when Waitr was still young, Founder and CEO Chris Meaux described the app as “a new way for local restaurateurs to connect with consumers without having to raise their prices” in an interview with The Advocate. It’s such a simple idea, and it’s a good one. In an age where brick and mortar, especially small ones, are at risk from all the big companies who can do it cheaper, this really felt like a game changer. Then they brought in the fast food joints. Fast food isn’t main street, and it sure isn’t local. Still, they were signing mom and pops in their ever expanding network of cities. That was their business model, go to mid-size towns where the other companies haven’t locked up the market. At the time, it felt like doing good. They were bringing a service to the ignored populations. Those other companies didn’t care about towns with under two hundred thousand people, but Waitr did.
And then the corporate speak started. They started talking about optimization and heat maps and increasing efficiency. Buzz words sneaked their way into regular conversations. The big yearly company hullabaloo had constant callbacks to the founders and their mythic origins, lest we forget that they were the good guys. There were cheesy sketches with the big wigs hamming it up (think Michael Scott in the cringey “Company Picnic” episode doing “SlumDunder Mifflinaire”). It was corporate in the most self-aggrandizing and masturbatory sense. We sign your paychecks, so watch us on the stage and clap. And then they went public. It was a huge deal. They flew a bunch of people up to New York to be there for the televised button pressing ceremony in which NASDAQ officially launched the company to the public. More corporate talk found its way in. More managers started showing up. Bosses had bosses who in turn had bosses. Along the way, they bought other companies, most recently a competing delivery company, Bite Squad. They even got bought themselves by Landry’s Inc. (A casino and restaurant magnate.) Things continued to slide into corporateness. Performance metrics were applied to everything. Items which by rights should be holistic, like the best way to help a new restaurant display a menu with their aesthetic, were quantified, they were numbers. Everything was becoming uniform. This company which prided itself on showcasing the unique in towns was suddenly shaving off the edges until everything could fit in the same sized box.
To be clear, this company was built on the backs of people like my wife. These folks put in the hours, but way more than that, they put in their hearts. Like me, they believed the bill of goods they had been sold. This was a family. We wear tee shirts to work for crying out loud. Their creativity and sweat was poured into Waitr, and that is why it succeeded. How were they thanked for this? They had a mandatory “integration meeting” in which they summarily terminated 80 people. They gave them 5 minutes to collect their things. They had police on site to escort them from the building. Because my wife is remote, she found out she was fired when they terminated her access to systems. She later got an email which explained that they were “eliminating redundancies.” That’s the change. She was not a member of the family. She was not a person who put years into this company. Hell, she wasn’t even a person. She was a redundancy. They all were. And they were shown the door with no notice, no chance to figure out what they were going to do, no real reason other than that they were the leftovers. The fat trimmed from a steak so that the truly special part could be served up to the consumer. They were discarded. It didn’t matter what these people did for the company. Some of them having been there since day one.
I say all of this to explain why I can only arrive at a singular conclusion. Waitr is not special anymore. It is not David, as much as it would like its employees and customers to believe so. It is just another soulless Goliath corporation that has quarterly reports as its only guiding star. They only care about the bottom line. So I ask anyone who sees this to let Waitr know that you see them. You see what they did, how they were so incredibly callous to the people who made them. If you are in a city with Waitr or Bite Squad, know that they do not care about your community. I’m almost certain that this will not do anything to the actual company, but at the very least these real people who bled for something in which they believed will have their stories seen and heard. And this company which has completely lost what made it special will be seen for the craven vulture which it has become.