Whether we're too exhausted to cook dinner or are just craving something specific like pineapple pizza or vegan ramen, apps like Deliveroo and UberEats always have our backs. But as much as we appreciate the technology, the people we really owe it all to are the folks that deliver our precious orders to our doorsteps safe and warm.
Since we've previously picked the brains of flight attendants, tiny home builders, and supermarket employees, we thought it was time to find out what it's like to deliver food through one of these ultra-popular apps. We talked to three people: Laurie, who works for US delivery service Postmates in California; Harry Campbell of the blog The Rideshare Guy, who has driven for UberEats, Postmates, Doordash, and both Lyft and Uber in California; and Debbie, who has worked with Postmates, Doordash, UberEats, Shipt in Florida. Here's what they had to say about the good, the bad, and the everything else of delivering food.
What's the best thing about your work experience?
"You get paid immediately. You can cash out as many times a day as you want. I've also met some really cool people and had some networking opportunities. I've given out business cards for my makeup artist work and ended up getting jobs that way." - Laurie
"The ability to create my own schedule. I worked when I wanted and for as long as I wanted." - Campbell
What's the worst thing about your work experience?
"On some shifts, it’s difficult to remain motivated when you realise you spent most of the past two hours waiting for orders that haven’t arrived. You set aside the time to earn money… and you’re just kind of idle, earning nothing, and can’t do anything about it." Campbell.
Any wild stories?
"I worked on New Years Eve, I ended up working until probably 4 am. I started late, I started at like 10 pm. When I started, I was delivering, it was very, very busy. And then it got probably about 1 am, something happened to the point where, I don't know if these people were just too drunk to answer their doors and passed out, but it got to the point where I had a whole garbage bag full of food — because what we do is, I'll throw the customer a text, I'll call them, if I don't hear anything in two minutes, I call one more time, and then there's a button on the app, I push that button and they get a five minute warning from the app. If I don't hear anything after five minutes, I'm supposed to just keep the item. So then I went to go give one of the pizzas away to a homeless guy, and he just threw it on the ground!" - Laurie.
Any trends you've noticed about people?
I’ve found that UberEats customers are willing to walk to the curb to get their meal, whereas customers of DoorDash or Postmates wait for you to come to the door. My theory is that they associate the food delivery service with the rideshare service, where you obviously need to walk to the street to get your ride. So they do the same thing for their Uber food." - Campbell.
Are most of the people you encounter nice?
"Customers are so very nice and kind. I smile and joke with them and they are always happy to be getting their food, of course." - Debbie
"I’d say cordial. I’ve rarely encountered obnoxious people. There just isn’t enough time for the interaction to go badly." - Campbell
What’s the weirdest thing you've had to deliver?
"Not weird but people that order ice cream or milkshakes from a restaurant that’s miles away from them. I drive fast but this is South Florida with heat and traffic. Do they think we have a portable freezer in our car?" - Debbie.
How good are most people at tipping?
"Only 50%. Shocking how many times that I spend an hour and a half shopping for them (on Shipt) and go back and forth texting letting them know which items are not available and giving them choices of what is and then carrying bags and bags of heavy groceries to the door and no tip at all. But I have also discovered that you absolutely can’t tell who will and will not tip. Very poor people in run down neighbourhoods are many times very kind and give me a few dollars that they sure can’t really spare. " - Debbie.
Available data suggests that the vast majority of people tip something, but it’s usually a negligible amount, a couple of bucks. On rare occasions, the tip is really generous, and I appreciate it." - Campbell
"It usually ends up well. It's good extra money, that's for sure. But recently I waited for this lady's order for like 30 minutes. It was a $326 food order, she didn't tip me. It was a mansion. I got her good there hot, I waited forever for it to be done. There were 20 items in their order! She was really nice when I delivered the food. So I don't know what the issue was." - Laurie.
When people pre-tip, can you see how much the tip is before you deliver the order?
"No, and we never will. I can guarantee there would be terrible customer confrontations if a driver knew the customer stiffed on a tip." - Campbell.
How do you deal with angry customers?
"Haven’t had any. But have had seriously nasty restaurant workers. They ignore me many times and have had a couple that just didn’t want to make the order at all." - Debbie
"Prior to delivery, customers simply want their food. Whatever issues I’m having with the restaurant or my mapping app, they don’t want to hear my excuses. My goal is to be honest about the situation, offer options, and get them their meal ASAP. I also encourage customers to discuss their issues with corporate, because they don’t realise that I’m not empowered to give them any credit or considerations with their account. Then, once a delivery is complete, any subsequent issues with an incorrect order are responsibility of UberEats." - Campbell.
Do you feel you are paid fairly? What about benefits?
"No and no." - Debbie.
"In my experience among food delivery services, Uber Eats has notoriously low delivery pay. Also, there are no corporate benefits associated with being an independent delivery driver, which everyone knows going in." - Campbell.
Have you ever felt unsafe delivering food as a woman?
"You know, I don't. Before I started Postmates, I was always iffy about it, and then one day I just went for it and tried it and I don't have any problems." - Laurie
Do you get any perks or discounts?
"We get this thing called Postmates Perks, where we get discounts on travel, at theme parks, at shops, on rental cars, things like that." - Laurie
"There were no specific discounts for drivers. However, I visit a lot of restaurants I wouldn’t normally see, and make mental notes for ones I’d like to visit with my wife and son." - Campbell
What’s something you wish people knew about the job of delivering food?
"How very many hard working people work a full time job and then go home, feed their kids and go back out to this side hustle to try and make ends meet. These are not lazy people and this independent contractor position really takes advantage of the people on the bottom rung of income. No benefits and they all try to get as many drivers on the road so they don’t have to offer any promotions. Also I see how income insecurity feels because there are days and weeks that you are working long hours and not getting many deliveries at all. For me it’s not that big a deal because I have other income but there are so many drivers that have to use the cash out option each day so they can put gas in their car or food on their table." - Debbie.
"New drivers need to set modest expectations about their earning potential. Mobile-app delivery is NOT a career! It’s terrific if you’re a student who wants cash on the side, or you have extra time and want to earn a few extra bucks. However, it’s hard on your vehicle, there are no benefits as an independent contractor, and the earnings can be inconsistent. Get your degree. Study a trade. Start a career elsewhere! These jobs are low-ceiling jobs." - Campbell.