Google accused of ‘deceptive’ online ordering practices by restaurant group

Diving brief:

  • A class action lawsuit has been filed against Google alleging the tech giant breached restaurants intellectual property rights and interfered with their relationships with their customers by using “deceptive online ordering practices”. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Left Field Holdings, which operates several Lime Fresh Mexican Grill restaurants.
  • The complaint alleges that Google used the name Lime Fresh without its permission and “intercepted” more than 1,000 orders from its customers, most of which were pickup orders. The lawsuit also alleges that Google directed customers to unauthorized websites that were intentionally designed to include Lime Fresh but were owned and controlled by Google.
  • The complaint alleges that Google’s unauthorized sites directed customers to branded pages on delivery platforms such as Grubhub and DoorDash. The plaintiffs say they have not authorized or sponsored their pages on major vendor sites.

Overview of the dive:

The suit claims that Google began these practices in 2019, using a website to capture customers’ attention and sell their orders to third-party delivery companies. Plaintiffs’ attorneys said this forces restaurants to pay service fees to third-party delivery companies while losing direct relationships with customers.

“Google’s misleading web pages divert restaurant orders and customers into a process that benefits Google, but not restaurants,” said Tim Sperling of Sperling & Slater, a law firm that joined Keller Lenkner and Hausfeld. LLP to file the class action.

At the end of 2018, Google redesigned its Maps site, adding stars for restaurants. Soon after, Google Maps added a feature showing images of the most popular meals in a restaurant. The company also introduced new features for Google Lens, including the ability to split a bill or calculate a tip by pointing a mobile camera at the receipt.

Google added online ordering features in 2019, integrating with Olo to allow customers to order food from Google Search, Maps and Assistant. Also that year, Chow Now and delivery.com began partnering with Google for online ordering.

These moves may have been a boost for restaurants, given Google’s massive audience. The company’s Android system, for example, has about 42% of the mobile operating system market share in the United States. There are more than a billion restaurant searches on Google every month, according to Forbes. According to a recent survey by SEO Clarity, 66% of respondents trust Google, a higher percentage than those who trust other technology companies.

“When [consumers] want to place an order with a restaurant, they typically turn to Google, the world’s number one search engine,” the lawsuit states.

A similar lawsuit was settled by Grubhub last year. The lawsuit accused the company of creating “misleading pages” for non-partner restaurants. Although Grubhub has denied all the allegations, it has implemented several changes to its website to give restaurants more control.

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