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Davis, California

Monday, December 11, 2023

What does food delivery really look like?

The other side of the screen isn’t as simple as you’d think

Deciding to order food from a delivery app is simple. You try to rationalize the extra cost and tap a few buttons to place your order. The process is so streamlined that from the customers perspective, it seems like a quick and easy—albeit expensive—process. But the other side of the screen is more chaotic than the app would like you to believe.

As a way to earn extra money and just get out of the house more during the summer, I began Doordashing with my two sisters. We work as a three person operation, each vital to the intricate structure that makes up a Dash. One driver who stays in the car the whole time. One navigator who types in the addresses as quickly as possible. And one app navigator/runner, who fields orders and goes into establishments to collect food. 

Everything about Doordash is done through its Dasher App. To begin your Dash you have to first choose an amount of time you want to be available for. Once you have your slot, your app shows nearby hotspots. These areas will usually have a 2-3 dollar boost to their base pay. The amount might seem small, but in the long run factors largely into your overall earnings. Once an order is placed, you will get a notification. Your screen will show you the restaurant name and the amount the dash is worth, usually in the six to ten dollar range. From the moment you accept the order, the clock is ticking. 

After the order is secured there are three steps. Each of these sections is given an expected time range that is almost impossible to achieve without speeding. First, going to the restaurant and getting the food. This part normally goes smoothly. Every order has a number you can show to vendors, but if you tell them you’re from Doordash they mostly just hand it over. Additionally, Doordash provides all of its drivers with a Dasher activation kit which normally only consists of a red hot bag to keep the food warm and a card to pay for orders if a customer requires. Recent bags also come with custom Doordash hand sanitizer and a bright red mask that communicates to restaurant workers that you’re a Dasher better than words ever could.

Once you get the food, you confirm with the app you are onto the next portion. You aren’t able to see the customer’s home address until after you have already picked up the food. Meaning, if you got an order from a restaurant five minutes away and the address is 20 minutes in the opposite direction, there’s nothing the driver can do about it at that point. This is how we ended up driving 35 minutes for a five dollar delivery (and a one dollar tip). After the delivery you take a photo of the food on the doorstep, confirm with the app it was delivered and drive around until you get a new order or finish driving.

From the inside, the flaws of the app-based food delivery industry are extremely apparent. The time expectations given to drivers are very difficult to meet if anything in the process is off, even if it is at the fault of the restaurant. (This is how we ended up getting a critical error on one of our first deliveries.) The interface of the app is so confusing that even after a month of dashing, there are features I still struggle with. I dash in a group; the job alone along with the time expectations and customer service is an extreme amount of work for one person, only to be paid so little by the app.

The job relies on tips. Doordash offers the best base pay of any delivery app but that still averages out to five dollars or less depending on where you live, and gas is not paid for. Because of the simplicity of ordering, people usually forget the driver on the other end. Delivering an 80 dollar P.F Chang’s order to a small mansion to be tipped three dollars is soul crushing. Being a delivery driver is a difficult and unexpectedly high-stress job. Next time you open the app, remember the person on the other side.

Written by: Livvy Mullen — arts@theaggie.org


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