How Facebook became Mexico’s working class favorite food delivery app

Breaking into the street food scene in Mexico City is no small feat, so Jordi Berbera decided to open a pizza stand during the pandemic. But he soon realized how cramped the operation would be, and he only managed to prepare individual 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 convert his operation into a “dark kitchen”, also known as the “ghost kitchen” – a restaurant that focuses entirely on the delivery.

Dark kitchens have emerged with the growth 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 Mejía, have turned to selling their food on Facebook groups, which have become an inexpensive alternative to conventional delivery services.

Even though they list their restaurant on Rappi, Berbera and Mejía estimate that they only receive one order through the app for every ten orders they receive from the Facebook groups they are on.

Much of Mexico City’s food scene is built around affordability. That means selling on platforms like Rappi and Uber Eats, which can charge commissions of around 30%, forcing food establishments to raise prices. In 2021, restaurant management platform Waiterio found that profit margins for restaurants in Mexico were about 20%. This number has decreased during Covid-19, when more than 10,000 restaurants in Mexico City firm and delivery platforms have been strength to temporarily lower their commissions.

Berbera and other Mexico City restaurateurs who spoke to Rest of the world said Facebook offers them a hack around delivery apps, all without having to pay a single centavo. The Berbera neighborhood’s private Facebook group posts half a dozen daily lists of tacos, tortas and seasonal foods like rosca de reyes, often accompanied by a WhatsApp number and the offer of free home delivery within a certain radius. They fill orders on their trusty moped, which they bought specifically to meet Facebook’s demand.

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

Berbera compared Rappi to a mall – chances are you already know what you want to buy and which stores you go to. Facebook is more laid-back, intimate, and neighborhood-focused. You walk around, check different stalls. “It’s like going to the park,” he says.

And it’s a busy park: a private group Rest of the world joined had nearly 11,500 members, with people selling everything from food to clothing and discussing neighborhood activities.

Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook’s parent company Meta, has previously pushed for the reinvention of the social platform as a digital marketplace. Groups have emerged for everything from selling parrots in Bangladesh to matchmaking in Pakistan.

Berbera and Mejía’s Pizza Pizza Pizza runs in the neighborhood of Xochimilco, best known for a maze of canals populated by colorful boats popular with tourists – the Venice of Mexico City, with just more micheladas and mariachis. Beyond the quays of piersXochimilco is largely a working-class neighborhood, and while Starbucks and Shake Shack have come to infiltrate Mexico City’s wealthier neighborhoods, the streets of Xochimilco are still dominated by open-air restaurants and street food stalls. selling tlacoyos and carnitas.

“Everyone in this town eats out,” said Tiana Bakic Hayden, an anthropologist at the College of Mexico. “There are very fancy places where you can spend $100 a person and then you can eat on the street for 18 pesos [around $1] for four tacos.

This economic stratification is reflected in how delivery apps work in the city. “My feeling is that during [delivery apps] had a pretty big impact in the most central neighborhoods, I don’t think they had a lot of impact on very large parts of the city,” Hayden said. “They only serve certain levels and certain cities.”

When Berbera and Mejía started operating from her father’s house, Facebook was key to their early success. After the first two times they uploaded photos of their pizza to the neighborhood group, they were bombarded with 18 messages from people asking for the menu.

“People use Facebook because it’s cheaper. You can find everything.

Their Facebook posts have become so popular they suspect it even led Rappi to reach out. But despite the relative ease of integration, the economy did not work. Rappi eats up around 30% of each order, Berbera estimated, meaning they had to raise their prices for each item and still lose money.

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

Gad Allon, an operations management expert and professor at Wharton, said that due to labor costs, food delivery platforms are designed for high-priced orders. If a customer is paying $30 for a meal, a few extra dollars for delivery costs might not seem like much. The calculation changes for a $3 meal. “For a food stand, that makes absolutely no sense,” he said. Rest of the world. “There is no question.”

Alberto Caricio runs a small restaurant called Elotlan a few blocks from Berbera and Mejía’s house, serving classics like sopes and gorditas fried over a steaming comal. Elotlan honors the culinary traditions of neighboring Puebla state, with each dish built on a base of white and blue nixtamalized corn dough.

At only 21 years old, Caricio has already opened three Elotlan sites. Although foot traffic accounts for most of his sales during the day, he said delivery is key to his business and about 80% of his orders come from Facebook at night. He is currently active in four different neighborhood groups, regularly posting pictures of cheese-dipped tortillas.

Xochimilco’s concentration of affordable food options creates competition to keep costs low. “His [a] fragile market,” said Verónica Crossa Niell, professor of urban studies at the College of Mexico. Rest of the world. “If someone is going to charge 25% more for my quick startI’ll just go to the next seller.

One of Caricio’s restaurants also sells on Didi Food, the Chinese delivery platform active in Mexico City, but it hasn’t garnered many referrals. Like Berbera, Caricio has to raise its prices on Didi to recoup the commissions it pays to the platform, which is likely driving away customers. He estimated that Didi accounts for only around 5% of his sales. “Posting on Facebook is necessary to get customers and have consistent sales,” he said.

Rest of the world visited the new Elotlan branch the week it opened. Through Facebook, Elotlan was also getting delivery orders, and an employee hopped on a bike with a carry-out bag to deliver around Xochimilco every 20 minutes or so.

Sandra Mendoza, who lives a few blocks away, came to see the new storefront. As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the neighborhood’s food scene, she was curious about the new addition. Rest of the world asked if she had already ordered delivery via Rappi or Didi.

“No,” she laughs. “I’m very Mexican.”

Daniel Colunga, general manager of Uber Eats in Mexico, said the platform tries to attract restaurants by offering them access to data and tools such as promotions and discounts. “I call it professionalization,” he said. Rest of the world, although he acknowledged that it was difficult to balance accessibility and commission rates in some parts of Mexico City. Uber Eats entered the country in 2016, and today Mexico City accounts for around 40% of its market revenue. The company said it has doubled the number of restaurants on the platform since 2020.

Yet other factors prevent diners from accessing platforms like Uber Eats, such as the emphasis on credit or debit cards and a smartphone.

Alexander Rojas González, one of the owners of the Xochingón restaurant, said that although his restaurant is on both Didi and Rappi, most of their delivery orders come from Facebook. But, González said, that’s not the only reason Facebook is more popular. “The type of people in this field use cash a lot more than cards or wire transfers,” he said, “and not many platforms accept cash payments. Facebook is much easier.

There is another added bonus, of course. “We’re addicted to being on Facebook,” Berbera said. Rest of the world. He might as well profit by selling a pizza or two.