The BBC’s consumer rights programme Watchdog has highlighted a worrying problem with the Just Eat online takeaway ordering service. The programme discovered that the Just Eat website was advertising take out services from restaurants that did not exist, and from others that were unregistered, or had low hygiene ratings.
Just Eat is an online service that lets you order takeaway food in your local area, from 17,000 restaurants in the UK, without having to look up individual restaurants. It has around 5 million regular users and takes a commission from participating companies.
Watchdog carried out an investigation in which they checked out 156 restaurants across six cities, including Manchester, London and Glasgow, and discovered that out of the 156, seven restaurants were not found at the address listed on the Just Eat website. When the researchers visited the addresses, they were led to residential streets, industrial estates and even fields. But they were still able to order food from these ‘phantom restaurants’, so in an effort to find out exactly where they were based, the researcher team called the phone number on the individual receipts and asked if they could pick their take-aways up from the restaurant.
The researchers, who were posing as customers were given various reasons why they could not pick up their deliveries, such as:
‘We’re just a kitchen…we’re not authorised to let anyone in.’
‘…It’s only a delivery service that we have from here.’
They also found that out of the five cities they visited, some of the restaurants were not even registered with their local authority, which means that they are operating illegally.
Councilor Khan, Chair of the Safer and Stronger Communities board for the Local Government Association, told the Watchdog reporters: “No member of the public should be buying food from any premises that aren’t registered with the local council, or premises that don’t meet the health and hygiene standards. It is a very serious risk to public health.”
The researchers discovered that one in eleven of the restaurants investigated were unregistered, and of the ones that were registered, and had obtained an official hygiene rating, over 40% of them registered just two, one and zero out of five.
Rachel Glover, Environmental Health Officer for Basildon Council explains the rating system: “A hygiene rating of zero, one or two means that at the time of inspection the food was being prepared in an unhygienic environment. Maybe there were mice, poor cleaning standards, raw meat juices pouring onto cook food.”
Councilor Khan commented: “Just Eat are responsible for the restaurants they are advertising online. They should ensure that all businesses are registered with their local council and that they meet the health and hygiene standards. If Just Eat find businesses that aren’t registered with the local council they should bar them from their website.”
In light of the Watchdog investigation, Just Eat has now suspended the restaurants identified and said that they were “tightening the registration process” in an effort to stop others using fake addresses.
Just Eat has since released a statement in which they say:
“As a result of your investigation we have tightened our registration processes to prevent restaurants using fake addresses in future. We have already suspended those in question and have begun a thorough audit across our site. We welcome a wider debate with the relevant bodies on tackling the industry-wide issue of unlicensed trading.
Food Hygiene Ratings are governed by the FSA and local authorities and if they allow a restaurant to trade then it seems fair they should be allowed to do so on our site. That said, we have been actively engaging with various authorities to help drive up standards.
We give our customers more information about the restaurants on our site than they would get over the phone, from directories or leaflets through the door. We have nearly two million up-to-date customer reviews on everything from food quality to speed of delivery to help them to make more informed choices about where to order takeaway.”
You can watch the Watchdog programme in which this story is featured by visiting the BBC iPlayer here. It is episode 6 from series 31.