The Gig Economy: Barely Dashing By

The clock was ticking. I had 6 months until my apartment lease ended and the rent would skyrocket.  There was only one solution in front of me.  I had to get another job. But what job?  Who would hire someone for only 6 months, and be willing to work with my full time day job? At this point I had to save up a substantial amount of money to cover the expense of finding a new place to live. There was no more time to waste.

With the cost of housing so high and the dark threat of recession around the corner,  many people were taking to app-based day labor to help make ends meet in the gig economy. There are a number of options to choose from, Uber, Wag and DoorDash just to name a few.  

I’m going to be talking about my experience in food delivery, specifically with DoorDash, although much of this applies to UberEats and Postmates. Having worked for a privately owned pizza restaurant in my twenties, many of my comparisons are going to be to pizza delivery.  Just a disclaimer. The following discusses my experiences and should not to be taken as a training guide. (For proper DoorDash policies, fully read your contract with DoorDash.)  However, these are things I learned.

I was never going to be a long-term, full-time Dasher. My goal was to save enough money to cover the upfront cost of moving into cheaper housing. The rent on my two bedroom apartment had gone up a lot every lease cycle, while my income had stood still for the last five years. So my time with DoorDash was short, only about 4 months until I saved up the money needed to move.

Getting started.

First you need to go to the DoorDash website and apply. Yes, this is an actual application. They are going to want your social security number, copy of your driver’s license and proof of insurance. Also expect a background check, which only takes about two to five days to complete.

You’ll have the option to go to their offices for a short training class, or to just have your activation kit mailed to you. DoorDash says it will take one to four business days for the activation kit to be delivered. However in practice this does not seem to be typical. Some people get their activation kits delivered in four days or less. But others, myself included, did not get their kits delivered for months. A few people never got their activation kits delivered at all.

You are better off going to their training class. My activation kit was a thermal insulated bag (hot bag) and a prepaid credit card, which you use to pay for the food at some, but not most restaurants.  

You are an independent contractor.

This is something that you are going to hear a lot because fellow Dashers are adamant about not wanting to be told what to do. What this really means is that you are responsible for everything, from vehicle maintenance, to smartphones, to saving your own taxes. To be safe you should save 20% of your earnings for taxes.

Pay

With DoorDash, you get at least $1 per delivery. Most of the time they offer bonuses, which I’ve seen get as high as $7 per delivery in my area. Plus 100% of your tips, although in 2019, there have been some legal disputes with the company over tips made with a card. For me, with an average of 2 to 3 deliveries an hour, I normally made more than my state’s minimum wage of $11 an hour at the time. So I did okay. I imagine if anybody wants to make this their full-time job, they need to be much better at time management than I am.

Schedule your shift in advance. 

You are going to have the option to schedule a shift or work on the fly with a function called Dash Now. I suggest scheduling a shift. On paper,  Dash Now sounds like the better option because you can just pick up your phone and go. In practice, I seldom found that to be a viable option. DoorDash fills up time slots, and unless someone decides not to work,  you won’t be needed. However, if I scheduled a shift and got sick, I could simply unschedule with no real penalty.     

Camp out where the action is. 

In the DoorDash App you’ll be guided to their “Hotspots,” which is a destination on the map located near businesses that Doordash feels are likely to receive a lot of orders. Most of the time these are good places to park and wait for an order. Sometimes you might find a better place to wait and that is fine. Just make sure you are close to the restaurants people order from. When the Doordash system assigns orders, it starts with Dashers who are closest to that restaurant. My go to spot was a Wing Stop.

Use your hot bag.  

The thermal insulated bag (hot bag) is actually a point of debate amongst the Dashers. The contract does not specifically require you to use the hot bad while making a delivery. And in some cases locking in the steam from the hot foods can make some dry foods soggy, like tortilla chips. The simple answer to this is to just keep the tortilla chips outside of the hot bag.

There are many more reasons why you should use a hot bag. For starters, restaurants can require you to use your hot bag. Presenting your hot bag at the restaurant might make employees feel more comfortable about handing their product to you. Also, a customer at the restaurant might see you carrying out an order in your DoorDash hot bag and be inspired to order through DoorDash in the future. Potentially generating more orders and work for you and your fellow Dashers. Additionally, having a hot bag with the DoorDash logo makes customers feel more comfortable about opening their doors to a stranger. 

Dress for success and safety.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Many times I have ordered food through DoorDash and the Dasher showed up on my doorstep in pajamas, bedroom slippers, messy hair and perhaps a toddler trailing behind. Doordash does not specify personal grooming and apparel requirements. However, you’ll find that you are going to be treated better by both customers and restaurant employees if you take the time to put on a pair of clean khakis or jeans, closed toe shoes and a respectable t-shirt. 

You should also consider safety in clothing. If for some reason you find yourself needing to run away from danger, like a vicious Boston Terrier, bedroom slippers would hinder your ability to run. For additional safety, you might want to consider buying a DoorDash t-shirt so the customer knows that you deliver for DoorDash and you are not just some stranger walking up to their house. 

Take inventory.

When picking up the order. You are not allowed to open any food containers. That is specified in the DoorDash contract. You also are not allowed to open any bags that have been sealed by the restaurant. However you are going to want to count the containers, if you can. Just to make sure that all the items are accounted for. If there are four items on the order, you should have four food containers. You can also ask the restaurant employee to review the order for you. 

Delivery with a smile. 

Consider a sunny disposition an unofficial uniform requirement. When one Dasher is perceived  poorly, all Dashers are perceived poorly. Do not be rude or argue with the customer. Just apologize for not being able to fully satisfy the customers needs and tell them that any missing items or incorrect orders can be replaced by contacting customer support. If you argue with the customers they might not use the service again, which hurts all Dashers. Just let customer support deal with it. I personally never had an angry customer. All my customers were very friendly and personable.

Comparison to traditional food delivery jobs.

Having worked in pizza delivery for five years in my twenties I feel comfortable making this comparison. For starters, delivering for DoorDash is really simple and low stress. All you have to do is pick up the food and deliver it. Whereas working for a traditional pizza restaurant you are expected to do everything. Deliver pizzas, take orders, handle money, cook pizzas, clean dishes, clean restrooms, clean floors, order ingredients, take out trash, etc. With DoorDash, you don’t even need to handle cash as payment is handled over the app. 

There is an argument to be made that there is some stress in having to track your mileage, save for your own taxes, wear and tear on your own vehicle. But really, I didn’t find this much different than when I worked for a pizza restaurant. True, the pizza restaurant took out taxes for me and paid me some money for mileage. But it was never the full cost of my gas, not even close. If I keep track of my mileage while Dashing, I can use that as a tax write off. And the pizza restaurant never gave me a dime when my vehicle broke down. So really, that aspect of driving for DoorDash was a lot like working for the pizza restaurant. And no, most pizza restaurants do not provide vehicles for you to use.

My personal takeaway.

Success in an app-based day labor job seems to depend on a number of factors that one has zero control over.  Uber and Lyft, for example,  can yield wildly different financial results.

After four months, I had accumulated the funds I needed  and returned to a normal 9 to 5 working life.  It was a short term solution to a temporary problem and  that is when app-based day labor is best, as a second source of income. Perhaps  that is why so many Dashers are angry. So many Dashers have to work other jobs outside of their 40 hour a week day jobs to pay everyday bills. Or they are good people who are having a really hard time finding full time work in a job market that does not have enough paying jobs for everyone. 

For those who would like to make DoorDashing their one and only source of income I have a few suggestions. Be your own accountant and financial data analyst. Log your miles. Make spreadsheets with pie charts and graphs. Keep track of sporting events such as football and boxing. Wait near restaurants that are likely to get orders on those sporting events. Such as Wingstop. Do not underestimate holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Many people do not celebrate holidays but still need food. Track when people are most likely to order food and remember that all this is subject to change depending on the time of year, area and even the weather. You are going to get a high volume of orders on a rainy day, but that also means you have to drive in the rain. And try to avoid asking customers to meet you at your car. With some exceptions like at a college campus or other such places where there is literally no parking. Asking the customer to meet you at your car makes you look lazy, and DoorDash advertises, “Hot food delivered to your doorstep.” 

If I was going to do DoorDash full-time, long-term. I would work from 10 a.m. to  2 p.m. during lunch. Take a 3-hour break. Then pick up again at 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. during dinner for a total of 9 hours a day.

The last and final thing you need to know about driving for DoorDash. At least in my opinion.  You are actually working for the customers. And you represent all Dashers. So it is every Dashers responsibility to make every Dasher look good,  to consider the potential for future work from people you meet in the restaurants, making deliveries, carrying your hot bags.  And be courteous and smile, after all they are your real bosses.

 

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