MUMBAI, India – Aakanksha Porwal the owner of a small retro dinner called Vahnilla & Co mpany recently registered for the zom5 delivery app to make dishes like her veggie cheeseburger and Kit Kat cupcakes available to a wider audience. She has also joined Zomato's Gold Program, where she will offer two meals for the price of one member, who will dine in person for me.
The purpose was to help expand her firstborn business. But three months and 150 free meals later, Ms Porval is discouraged.
"Zomato is the biggest thing that happens to a customer," said Ms. Porwal. "Consideration for restaurant owners is literally nothing."
Now, with a collective primal scream, restaurants in India are rebelling against Zomato and other leading dining applications .
Two weeks ago, a group of restaurant owners near New Delhi called for an end to the steep food discounts that Zomato and competitors like Swiggy and Uber Eats are constantly offering. They claim that costs have fallen at eating establishments while applications receive rewards. The protest, which has garnered public support from thousands of eateries, has its hashtag, #Logout. Many have left the Gold program or committed to it.
"The consumer believes that the discount is his right, not a privilege," said uprising leader Rahul Singh, who is the chief executive of the Coffee Beer Chain and president of the National Restaurant Association of India. "But all this comes out of the pockets of restaurants."
The disappointment goes beyond India. As food ordering and delivery are increasingly moving online, restaurateurs and suppliers around the world are questioning the small share of pie they receive from powerful goalkeepers like Zomato in India, Grubhub and DoorDash in the US and Deliveroo in Europe.
Apps make it easy for people to order food, and restaurants are exposed to a larger audience than dinners. But the platforms also charge huge commissions for each order and can shrink the profit margins of culinary establishments. In the United States, some restaurants have closed, unable to support the cost of running delivery applications.
The uprising in India underscores how tense the relationship between restaurants and dining applications. On Thursday, restaurateurs spent all day meeting with top executives of Zomato and Swiggy, but failed to settle their differences.
"The customer is addicted now", Satish Miena, a senior forecast analyst at Forrester's New Delhi office, a global research company, told the applications. "They have taught the customer that if there is no discount today, I will wait because there will be another discount tomorrow."
Food delivery applications in India say they provide a valuable and expensive service that is undervalued by their restaurant partners But they also make some changes in the face of rebellion.
Shortly after the #Logout campaign began, Zomato CEO, Deepinder Goyal apologized on Twitter for the financial pain that "bargain hunters" had caused some restaurants. Last week, he emailed all Gold restaurants, announcing 10 changes to address their concerns, including a one-day limit and doubling the annual subscription price to about $ 25.  But he refused to terminate the program. On the contrary: In an interview last Friday, Mr Goyal stated that he intended to extend Zomato Gold to delivery. About 18,000 restaurants have already been signed up, he said, and Zomato will soon test the idea with a small group of customers.
He claims that for many restaurants, the extra foot traffic from Gold is a vital source of business.
"Ninety percent of the restaurant base says how can you win me more customers?" Said Mr. Goyal. "At the end of the day, it's a restaurant choice. Who is forcing you to be in gold? “
Mr. Goyal said he understands why some restaurant owners think Zomato's delivery commissions are unfair. But he noted that the cost of Zomato to process and deliver an order is about 65 rupees or 91 cents, while the average order size in India is 235 rupees, or $ 3.27.
"We lose an order with 7 rupees," he says.
This logic gathers little sympathy from restaurateurs who cope with overall economic slowdowns and higher prices for fruits and vegetables in places like Mumbai.  The restaurant's owners say that Zomato and Swiggy, who have raised nearly $ 2 billion in funding together, have decided to push discounts for everything else.
Home screens of both apps give the best fees for any restaurant – usually big chains like Burger King or Domino's Pizza – offering the biggest deals of the day.
"Sometimes with all the discounts it is cheaper for the customer to order online than to cook at home," says Anurag Katriar, who heads a Indigo-branded group of European restaurants and heads the Mumbai-based restaurant association. "For aggregators, the number of users and the clicks creates their value."
Another sore point is customer data. Neither Zomato nor Swiggy share customers' names and phone numbers with the restaurant executing the order, citing privacy concerns.
Zomato and Swiggy continue to prepare promotions and programs to provide value to app users – often at the expense of restaurants.
Recently, Zomato recorded about 250 restaurants in an experiment called Infinity, in which people can eat as much as they want from the entire fixed-menu restaurant menu. The ensuing greed was difficult to manage restaurants and led to a lot of wasted food. Mr Goyal said Zomato now plans to limit unlimited eating to selected items such as pancakes or dos.
Swiggy, which is entirely focused on delivery, begins to compete directly with restaurant partners through its own brands that make food special, only " cloud kitchens." The restaurant industry has asked Indian antitrust regulators to block domestic brands . Sweigy declined to comment.
Disappointments appeared on August 13, just before India's Independence Day.
About 300 restaurant owners in Gurugram, a suburb of New Delhi that is home to many tech companies, including Zomato, decided they were tired of losing money to Zomato Gold patrons. They signed a pact to download Gold and other rebate programs for several days, saying they wanted " discount detox users ."
The protest news went viral. Within days, more than 2,000 restaurants – from white tablecloths to neighborhood stores – joined. This week, the industry called for further changes to food delivery programs operated by major players, including Uber Eats.
During Thursday's meetings to discuss these requests, Swiggy said he would limit the frequency of discounts and look at ways to share costs, according to Mr Kathriar, head of the Mumbai Restaurant Association, who attended . But Zomato has indicated that he will go ahead with Mr Goyal's plan to expand the gold to delivery, which could further damage the restaurant's finances.
A Swigie spokesman said the meeting was "constructive and collaborative". Zomato spokesman did not respond to requests for comment
Protests prompted Zomato to struggle to strike the right balance between its competing customer sets: 1.2 million paying Gold customers and the thousands of restaurants it needs to make the program valuable.
"Gold was a super successful success and that was the problem," Mr. Goyal said. "There may be 1 percent who misuse gold, but that's not the norm."
One typical gold user is Anushka Gankar, who had dinner in Vanilla on a recent Tuesday afternoon with two friends. She said she was there for the first time and that she found the place through the app.
Mrs. Gankar said gold did not dominate her dietary choices. "I eat a lot and am a great food," she said. "I generally use it when it's the end of the month and my bank balance is low."
The program also works better for some restaurants than others.
Rudresh Agarwal, co-owner of Carpe Diem, a bar and Sesha salon in Kolkata, eastern India, said he had lost some money for gold snacks but was looking at the program as a way to get exposure. He said he could afford the losses because he benefits from alcohol and a bottle, or the water lines that his restaurant serves.
However, for a place that offers only food, gold discounts can be detrimental. "If you don't have other products, the price won't work," he said.
Mrs. Porval said he is sticking to the Gold program so far. She said she was grateful that fellow restaurateurs had encouraged Zomato to improve the program and wanted to see how the changes take effect in a few weeks.
Mr. Goyal said that Zomato will continue to listen to restaurants, even if they do not always see eye to eye.
"We know that as the industry grows, Zomato grows with it," he said.