In the age of the coronavirus, food delivery drivers — like grocery store employees and kitchen teams — are in the immediate line of fire. The people who work these jobs are literally putting themselves in harm’s way to help you stay fed and live some semblance of a normal life while we collectively fight the spread of this pandemic. To a certain degree, the coronavirus is making it clear which jobs are actually essential to our society and way of life, and we can all do better to support the workers who are there for us in these trying times.
To figure out how better understand what this pandemic looks like for these vital couriers and the unique dangers they face, we spoke to three delivery drivers working in Los Angeles and New York.
What service are you working for right now and what city are you servicing?
Adam: Postmates. Brooklyn and Queens.
Anthony: DoorDash. L.A., Culver City.
Les: I’m doing Postmates primarily. I was doing Uber and Postmates in the beginning, but Postmates just provided more money, I noticed. I live in Silverlake, so I try to do Silver Lake and West Hollywood. Lately, I’ve been going up to Studio City and Valley Village because it’s a little easier to do it there just because the streets are wider, so primarily those areas. I don’t really go to downtown just because there’s no parking, so it’s pretty hard over there.
How much is this something you want to do versus a financial necessity for you?
Adam: Kind of a financial necessity right now. I’m actually between jobs and so, for me, the way to get some quick cash while I’m waiting to enter the workforce getting a full-time job.
Anthony: I would say a little bit of both. I like the freedom of it. I can work on it when I choose to. So I have time for my other tasks of filming and photography.
Les: I mean, I don’t mind it. The only reason I started doing it was that I got back into acting and auditioning. It’s a really flexible job, and I don’t have to worry about switching shifts with anyone, or getting in trouble with management, or running out for an audition.
Obviously, right now, it’s a little trickier with the health scare — because I think everybody’s a little on edge. I mean, I would love to not have to go out so much, but it is a financial necessity at this point, like you said. I still have to make rent and have some money coming in. So yeah, I still have to go out there.
What types of precautions are you taking to protect yourself?
Adam: So I’m taking a lot of precautions that a lot of the customers are taking. We’re trying to do what’s called contactless delivery. I pick up the food from the restaurant and we don’t have any physical contact there. I just go to the pickup area. And then I’ll usually drop it off and leave it on the doorknob of the customer’s house and ring the doorbell so they know it’s there. But I’m gone. I don’t even see these customers almost every time. It’s just a complete anonymous handoff.
Anthony: I wear gloves, and I keep my car pretty clean, and I keep the windows up with the air filter on in the car. I make sure that the restaurants close the bags. Hopefully, they’re wearing gloves too.
Les: I’m not opening any handles with my hands. I use the sleeve of my shirt. I always hope that like you can push the door to enter a restaurant or shop, but usually, it’s “pull” so I try not to touch any handles. I always carry a little sanitizer bottle with me because I can’t really wash my hands throughout the shift, like just with soap and water. Sometimes I use the restroom, which is really nice of them at the eatery.
But mostly just not touching hands. Obviously, I do not touch my face at all since this all happened. So like if my nose itches, I just use the sleeve of my shirt. When I go pick up the food, after I get it and get into my car, I sanitize my hands. When I go to deliver it at the customer’s place, make sure to hold the bag in a way that they can grab the handles from the top or something, so that way we don’t even touch hands, and then sanitize my hands after that.
If I use the elevator, I obviously don’t use my hands to touch the buttons. And I’ve noticed since the L.A. lockdown really got rolling, a lot of people are not using their hands for these things either, just regular tenants in buildings. I think everybody’s a little more aware, which is really good for people like me, obviously.
if you're getting takeout from your favorite local restaurant in the next few weeks please consider tipping like an eccentric millionaire
— Brian Grubb (@briancgrubb) March 16, 2020
Have customers been more grateful? How are the tips?
Adam: So the reason why I decided to risk this was because I thought that tips would be picking up during this time, but unfortunately I’ve seen the opposite. This has been verified by a lot of other delivery drivers on Reddit, I’m part of the courier’s group, and a lot of people are very disappointed at the lack of tipping during this time. You would assume that because couriers and delivery people are enabling the quarantines and the lockdowns are allowing people to stay home, you would assume that people would be paying a premium that we’re putting ourselves in the line of fire and we’re potentially exposing ourselves to the virus by being out here. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’ll give you an example. I did a drop-off a couple of nights ago, valued at $150. It was alcohol too, which is important because alcohol is not a necessity. We can all admit that’s kind of like a luxury, right? So I drove 10 miles for the drop-off, $150 order. She lived in a nice house, had a BMW in the driveway, a very nice car and she tipped me $1.78. Fortunately, for me, I’m not financially at a point where I absolutely need to make a lot of money. I’m kind of just doing this to maintain my money. But that was so disheartening and disappointing to see, especially on an alcohol delivery.
Anthony: I haven’t seen a difference, to be honest.
Les: Tip-wise, I’ve gotten a couple of good tips. Somebody tipped me $10 for a really small order, which is pretty good. Yesterday, I worked for five hours, and it was pretty slow. So I only did like 10 orders. A lot of people yesterday have been like, “Oh my God, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.”
Which is usually like, before all this happened, they’re just like, “Thanks.” And then we go our separate ways. They’ve been like super, super-nice actually, like really thankful. It feels like I’m in the military sometimes, because they’re like, “Thank you for your service.”
I’m like, “Oh, yeah, sure. No worries.” So that was kind of funny to me, because they definitely can tell I’m putting myself at risk. So yeah, it’s nice that they’re really nice about it, and I haven’t had anyone text me being like, “Hey, are still on your way?” Just it’s like sometimes there’s a lot of orders so I think they’re a little more patient as well.
In your opinion, what could be better? Are there any frustrations with the current state of things or the system that you think can be fixed?
Adam: One thing I’d love to see is companies like Postmates and Uber Eats email their database of customers, not saying that you must tip more, but I would like to see them encourage customers to understand the value and risks that the drivers are putting themselves through to keep this economy ticking as much as it possibly can. An email from Uber or Postmates to show support for the team I think would be really, really useful right now. Or even if somebody opens up the Postmates app and the first thing they see is a welcome screen that says, “Hey, guys. We understand that everyone’s having a hard time right now. However, please understand that your drivers are working really hard to make sure you get the food during these trying times. If you could tip a little more than normal, that would be appreciated by everybody.” Something like that could go a long way and at least it would show that the company has our back.
Anthony: Sometimes the app is pretty buggy. Like they’ll get an order and you accept it. The app doesn’t see you accepting it, so it says you missed it. Then there’s also some orders that are way too far away from where I’m picking them up.
Les: We got an email saying all of the customers can now request to please leave their food at the door or like a specific location so that we don’t have to come into contact with each other. But I actually haven’t had that instructed to me once yesterday. It was all like, “Deliver it to my door.” Or sometimes they text me to my phone and be like, “Hey, actually, can you just meet me outside?”
I wish on my end, I could be like, “Hey, if you don’t mind, I would love to just like leave the foods outside your door and just like let you know it’s there, just so we don’t have to actually come into contact with each other.”
A couple of times when they weren’t out front, I did end up leaving the food on their doorstep or just outside their front door, and I immediately text them, “Hey, it is right there. I would just prefer not to exchange it through our hands.”
I wish there was an option for delivery drivers to be able to prefer their delivery method as well. Some people are courteous. I had one person yesterday text me asking to deliver their food into their mailbox, which was very small. So I just like stuffed their entire dinner into a small mailbox, and then they’re like, “Please ring the doorbell and then pretty much run away.” So I texted something like, “Okay, well, it’s in the mailbox. It barely fit, but it’s in there.”
I had one guy that didn’t grab the bag right and he kind of cupped my hands underneath the bag. And I’m like, “Aw, geez.”
The scariest experience I’ve had so far is delivering to some location. I think it was in Los Feliz or Atwater, and this is before things really hit the fan. And I delivered to this lady and she opened the door very slowly, and then was hiding her face behind the door and then very slowly was reaching her hand out. Then she literally said, “Hey, I don’t want to breathe on you.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.”
I didn’t know if she was sick with the coronavirus, or just sick in general, or just was being precautious. But that was the first time I was like, “Oh, wow.”
It’s kind of scary that this person could have it and them being so close to me. So yeah, I mean, ever since then, I think people have been more cautious. It’s pretty much all in the customer’s hands, how cautious they want to be with the drivers. So I hope they take more initiative and not be weirded out that I’m holding a bag a certain way, or I’m leaving it on their doors.
Any weird delivery instructions?
Adam: No, I mean just the contactless drop-offs has been the extreme of it. But I don’t like, though, when somebody is writing directions to me in the app that they’re not saying “Please” or “Thank you.” A lot of times they’re just directing me orders, like “Leave drop-off on door.” That’s it. No “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Please.” That’s it. I find that to be a bit rude.
Anthony: A customer said, “Please try not to touch my food.” Even though I don’t touch the food because it’s closed. But some of them have weird instructions like, “Double bag it before you leave. Ask the restaurant to double bag it.”
Les: Not aside from the mailbox guy.
Are there any interesting things you’re seeing customers or restaurants doing to up their precautions?
Adam: One of the things I’ve seen is most restaurants have, and this was a few days ago, they shut down half the restaurant. I believe that that was an order by Governor Cuomo, where restaurants had to cut their capacity down by 50%, so that’s the first thing. The second thing is when I go to do these pickups, sometimes I have seen customers still eating at the restaurants, but I’m seeing a lot more distance. There’s usually at least a table between the different people that are eating there and I’m usually seeing solo diners now. I’m not seeing a lot of couples. I’m not seeing families. Sometimes even older people, which I’m shocked about because, as we know from the news, the elderly community is the most compromised by this virus. So it’s very weird to me to be seeing elderly people out and about kind of just enjoying their lives. That’s something I wouldn’t recommend.
Anthony: Masks and gloves. I’ve seen a lot of masks and gloves lately.
Les: Yesterday, I was driving by, and I noticed Chick-Fil-A had their drive-through open. There was still a really long line to get the food. But I saw that there was a service worker, like a cashier in the window, and then there was a worker standing by the window facing the cashier, and another customer standing facing the driver waiting for the food. So from what I could tell, I guess the cashier handed the food to one guy, the other guy handed the food to the other worker, and that worker handed the food to the cashier. So it was like a two-person buffer between the cashier and the customer.
I guess it’s like a way to maybe give more distance between the cashier and the driver. I’m not sure, because it seemed like a little bit of an overkill, like three people between handing out cash and food, but there’s no way it wasn’t a preventative safety measure of some sort.
I was at Chipotle and there was a lot of hand sanitizer stations everywhere. But I was a little sad that the Chipotle cashier, she was handling money, and then like touching people’s lids and silverware and touching the cash register with stuff.
Maybe it’s not a huge deal, but like, if you’re handling money, which could be potentially hazardous and then touching people’s plastic silverware and lids and stuff like that, and then giving it to me, and then I give it to the customer. That’s like a way of possibly transmitting something. So I do wish people were a little more aware of that as well, just like putting on gloves before touching silverware.
But that’s really it that I’ve seen so far, just like hand sanitizers, and some places have been wearing plastic gloves, which I appreciate. But I think mostly it’s just they’re limiting capacity, so no more dining in. I think that’s the real way they’re preventing more spread.