Breaking into the street food scene in Mexico City is no easy task, which is why Jordi Berbera decided to open a pizza stand during the pandemic. But he quickly realized how cramped the operation would be, and only managed to make single pizzas — not the ambitious pasta and salad menu he had planned. So he decided to move the operation to his girlfriend’s father’s house nearby and transform his operation into a “dark kitchen” – also known as a “ghost kitchen” – a restaurant that is all about delivery.

Dark kitchens have emerged with the rise of apps like Uber Eats and Colombian app Rappi, food delivery platforms that have changed the way we interact with restaurants. But instead of using these services, Berbera and his girlfriend Zaira Mejia started selling their food on Facebook groups, which are an inexpensive alternative to traditional delivery services.

Despite listing their restaurant on Rappi, Berbera and Mejia have calculated that they only receive one order through the app for every ten orders they receive from the Facebook groups they belong to.

Much of Mexico City’s food scene is built on accessibility. That means selling on platforms like Rappi and Uber Eats, which can charge fees of around 30%, forcing food service establishments to raise prices. In 2021, restaurant management platform Waiterio found that arrived for restaurants in Mexico it was about 20%. This number has dropped during Covid-19 when more than 10,000 restaurants in Mexico City closed and delivery platforms were forced temporarily reduce fees.

Berbera and other Mexico City restaurateurs who spoke to The rest of the world said Facebook is offering them to hack delivery apps, all without having to pay centavo. The private Facebook neighborhood group that Berbera posts to has half a dozen daily listings of tacos, cakes and seasonal foods such as Rosca de Reyes, often accompanied by a WhatsApp number and an offer of free home delivery within a certain radius. They fill orders on their trusty moped, which they bought specifically to meet demand from Facebook.

“People use Facebook because it’s cheaper,” Mejia said. The rest of the world. “You can find everything,” added Berbera.

Berbera compared Rappi to a shopping mall – you probably already know what you want to buy and which stores you will go to. Facebook is more laid-back, intimate, and neighborhood-focused. You stroll around, checking out different stalls. “It’s like going to the park,” he said.

And it’s a well-visited park: one private group The rest of the world There were nearly 11,500 members who joined, and people sold everything from food to clothes and chatted about what was going on in the area.

Mark Zuckerberg, head of parent company Facebook Meta, has previously encouraged the transformation of the social platform into a digital marketplace. Groups have sprung up for everything from selling parrots in Bangladesh to matchmaking in Pakistan.

Pizza Berbera and Mejia Pizza Pizza Pizza operates in the Xochimilco area, most famous for the labyrinth of canals inhabited by colorful boats popular with tourists – Venice of Mexico City, only with more micheladas and mariachis. Behind the berths embarcaderosXochimilco is mostly a working class area, and while Starbucks and Shake Shack have infiltrated the more affluent areas of Mexico City, the streets of Xochimilco are still dominated by open-air restaurants and street food stalls selling tlacoyos and carnitas.

“Everyone in this city eats out,” says Tiana Bakik Hayden, an anthropologist at the College of Mexico. “There are very trendy places where you can spend $100 a person and then you can eat outside for 18 pesos. [around $1] for four tacos.”

This economic stratification is reflected in how delivery apps operate in the city. “I feel that while [delivery apps] had a pretty big impact on the more central areas, I don’t think they had a big impact on quite large areas of the city,” Hayden said. “They only serve certain levels and certain cities.”

When Berbera and Mejia first started working at her father’s house, Facebook was key to their early success. After the first few times they uploaded photos of their pizza to a neighborhood group, they were bombarded with 18 messages from people asking for menus.

“People use Facebook because it’s cheaper. Everything can be found.”

Their Facebook posts have become so popular that they suspect it even prompted Rappi to contact them. But despite the relative ease of adaptation, the economy did not work. Berber estimates that Rappi eats up about 30% of every order, which means they had to raise the price of every item and would still lose money.

Neither Meta nor Rappi responded to requests for comment from The rest of the world.

Gad Allon, an operations management expert and professor at Wharton, said that due to labor costs, food delivery platforms are being set up for high-value orders. If a customer is paying $30 for a meal, then a few extra dollars for shipping might not seem like much. The calculus changes to $3 food. “For a food stall, it definitely doesn’t make sense,” he said. The rest of the world. “No questions”.

Alberto Caricio runs a small restaurant called Elotlan a few blocks from Berbera and Mejia’s home, serving classics such as sops and gorditas fried over steaming comal. Elotlan honors the culinary traditions of the neighboring state of Puebla, and each dish is made with white and blue nixtamalized corn dough.

At 21, Caricio has already opened three Elotlan stores. While pedestrians make up the majority of his sales during the day, he said delivery is key to his business and that about 80% of his orders come from Facebook at night. He is currently active in four different neighborhood groups, regularly posting photos of cheese-soaked flatbreads.

Xochimilco’s focus on affordable food options creates competition to drive down costs. “His [a] a fragile market,” said Veronica Crossa Neal, professor of urban studies at the College of Mexico. The rest of the world. “If someone charges 25% more for my comida rapidaI’ll just go to the next vendor.”

One of Caricio’s restaurants also operates through Didi Food, a Chinese delivery platform operating in Mexico City, but it hasn’t attracted many customers. Like Berbera, Caricio has to raise prices on Didi to recoup the fees he pays to the platform, which is likely to deter customers. He estimates that Didi only makes up about 5% of his sales. “You need to post on Facebook to get customers and have consistent sales,” he said.

The rest of the world visited the new Elotlan branch during the opening week. Thanks to Facebook, Elotlan was also getting delivery orders, with one of the employees hopping on a bike with a takeaway bag to deliver goods to Xochimilco every 20 minutes or so.

Sandra Mendoza, who lives a few blocks away, came to look at the new window display. As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the area’s culinary scene, she was intrigued by the new addition. The rest of the world asked if she had ever ordered delivery through Rappi or Didi.

“No,” she laughed. “I’m very Mexican.”

Daniel Colunga, CEO of Uber Eats Mexico, said the platform is trying to attract restaurants by offering them access to data and tools such as promotions and discounts. “I call it professionalization,” he said. The rest of the world, although he acknowledged that it was difficult to balance affordability and commission rates in parts of Mexico City. Uber Eats entered the country in 2016 and today Mexico City generates about 40% of its market revenue. The company said it has doubled the number of restaurants on the platform as of 2020.

However, other factors keep visitors away from platforms like Uber Eats, such as the emphasis on credit or debit cards and smartphones.

Alexandre Rojas González, one of the owners of the Xochingón restaurant, said that while his restaurant is on both Didi and Rappi, most of their delivery orders come from Facebook. But that’s not the only reason for Facebook’s popularity, Gonzalez said. “People in this industry use cash much more than cards or bank transfers,” he said, “and few platforms accept cash. Facebook is much easier.”

Of course, there is another added bonus. “We are addicted to Facebook,” Berbera said. The rest of the world. He might as well make a profit by selling a pizza or two.

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