Boring Background Stuff

In January of this year (2021) I became a Dasher. By that I don’t mean I will be harnessing up behind Rudolph this December and delivering presents to all the good boys and girls with Saint Nick. No, what I mean is that I joined DoorDash as a contract delivery driver. Or, as I describe it to most people, “I deliver food no one should be eating to people that can’t afford it from either a health or budget perspective.”

That latter description sounds just a tad negative and pessimistic, but I actually enjoy the work, it keeps you active, the money is not bad if you’re careful about the orders you take, and it’s a great opportunity to feed your mind with podcasts and audio books and other things in small moments of stolen time waiting on orders or in traffic. I’ve just gotten a bit philosophical about what I’ve seen and what I’m doing so I thought I’d blather on a bit about it here.

For those unfamiliar, “gig” jobs are transient, freelance, contract type jobs. Uber was one of the first to essentially crowdsource driving people from one place to another, much to the chagrin of taxi drivers everywhere. I don’t know the exact timeline, but that was the first one I remember hearing about, and after that numerous other companies followed in the footsteps. There was Lyft, an Uber competitor, and then came the food delivery services: Postmates, Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats. I’m sure I’m leaving some out, but you get the idea.

All of these companies have generally the same goal: develop a cloud-based service platform and app for consumers and “crowd source” a workforce from contract drivers instead of employees to get “stuff” from point A to point B. This last distinction is the source of endless debate which has now spilled over to the legal system, with California winning a late-2020 lawsuit against Uber and Lyft which would have required drivers to be classified as employees with benefits, taxes, etc. The delivery companies fought back and designed Proposition 22 which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in early November. That measure unwound the previous one before it even took effect, but it won’t be the last, there are already movements in some countries overseas and I’m sure there will be additional domestic challenges as well.

So yeah, I’m a contractor, and I’m pretty ok with that. I can set my own hours, pick which deliveries I want to take, and not deal with a bunch of bureaucratic red tape and middle-management BS. Those aspects are very appealing and while I don’t know what, if anything, would change with a different classification, I’d rather not find out. The beauty of not having a particular political affiliation is that I can pick and choose which policies I want to support, and in this case I am distinctly Libertarian. DoorDash and I have an arrangment, it’s working, let’s not fuck this up now, shall we?

Ok, enough of the general history, I’m boring myself to sleep just writing that stuff. Google it if you want more details beyond my tl;dr summary.

How I Got Started

I had been thinking of checking into Uber or one of the other delivery services I had heard of to bring in some cash when on one of my daily walks I saw a kid drive past me in a car that had a little red sticker in the window that said “DoorDash”. I actually hadn’t heard of DD before, but made a mental note of it and checked into it immediately when I got home. Whoever you were kid, I will be eternally grateful that our paths crossed that day!

I liked the idea of food delivery vs. taxiing people around for several reasons:

  1. I was in Topeka, KS, not exactly a huge metropolis, and I wasn’t sure how active a taxi-replacement like Uber would be.
  2. As someone who is slightly introverted, the prospect of having to make constant small talk all day while driving did not appeal very much. I’m not a shut-in, I just like my quiet time.
  3. Food delivery seemed a lot more physically active, getting in and out of the car constantly to pick up and drop off orders

I signed up, agreed to the background check which was completed in a matter of minutes, and was ready to go. I did just a bit of research ahead of time to get an idea of what to expect and went and bought a $5 hot-bag from Walmart and was ready to give it a whirl. Two+ months in and I’m a little fuzzy on the details but I’m pretty sure it was the /r/doordash community on Reddit where I got my initial information. Having lurked there now I’m surprised it didn’t scare me off of driving completely though.

That first delivery on Monday, January 11th was a perfect encapsulation of the learning and skill acquisition process. I was nervous, I didn’t know either the mechanics or the concepts, but I dove in and pressed the “Dash Now” button and stupidly accepted the first $3 order that popped up. “Here we go!”, I remember thinking.

I learned the basic mechanics of the app and the process after the first few deliveries. I made a whopping $9.50 that first lunch shift, but later that night I made $62 at dinner and was hooked. The concepts of which orders to take (no tip orders, orders less than $1/mile, or orders that take you out to places you have no chance of picking up another order on the return trip, restaurants to avoid – looking at you, Taco Bell), which orders to unassign (long waits = lost $), and how every apartment complex in the city is laid out and numbered completely differently took a couple weeks to get comfortable with.

I figured out how to make the most productive use of my time, listening to audiobooks and podcasts while driving and reading on the Kindle app playing chess on the app while waiting for orders. I even started coming up with other fun mental exercises to do to make “Dashing” a little more interesting and fun for myself.

After the 5-6 weeks though I was in a groove with the process, and my mind started thinking more deeply about what I was doing and how I was doing it. I’m probably one of the few people that could take something as simple as making sure people get their french fries warm and ice cream cold and attempt to philosophize it, but here we are.

My Approach

I’ve been into self improvement or as I prefer to call it “personal development” for all of my adult life. I don’t know how “improved” or “developed” I am, but I do my best to be a positive force in the world, constantly getting better at whatever I am doing and doing it to the best of my ability. It is a core value of mine and I strive to apply this idea to anything I undertake, and that includes Dashing.

I start with my appearance. I make sure I am showered, shaved and well dressed. Nothing elaborate, clean jeans or khakis and a sweater or polo depending on the weather. Deodorant and a bit of cologne applied at the start of each shift. How hard is that, right? Harder than you’d think apparently, see my “Other Dashers” section below.

I extend this to my car, trying to make sure it is clean inside and washed regularly outside. I just feel better knowing I’m showing up both to the restaurants and the customers looking presentable.

I bring hot bags into the restaurant with me and bag the orders as soon as I pick them up to keep them as warm and fresh as possible. From my observations I must be the only driver in Topeka that does this. I suppose that other drivers could be hot-bagging their orders when they get them to their cars, but I suspect that many, if not most, don’t even do that. I keep the orders in the hot bag up until the point I hand them to the customer, and I do this for two reasons: the first is to keep the order as hot and fresh as possible as I already stated, but the second is to show the customer that I took the time and that I care about how they receive their order.

I smile at each person I meet, and I’m friendly to everyone. I thank the restaurant workers when they bring me the orders and I thank the customers when I drop the orders off. I also try and tell everyone to have a nice day. I try to make humorous comments when things aren’t going well, like if orders are taking too long at the restaurants and there are a lot of drivers standing around waiting, or if it’s raining or otherwise nasty weather. I give complements on things that catch my eye, such as clothing, hair styles or nails, or if an order is available quickly. I try to brighten the day of everyone I come in contact with. Customers, workers and drivers are all targets for my attempts to spread a little positivity.

I have a collection of funny Dashing/Delivery meme’s and I text one of these to every customer when I start heading their way to bring them their food.

I get a response maybe 20% of the time, but those that do really appreciate them. I’ve had people tell me I’ve “made their day” or that “they lol’d, and they needed that today”. Others send memes back, or sometimes just send a laughing or heart emoji back. Still others wait to reply in person to tell me how much they liked what I sent. Memes and emojis are part of the communication medium of modern day life, and another way for me to connect and spread a little humor and joy. Full disclosure, sending these also improves my tips as well šŸ˜‰

Attitude-wise, I generally don’t get too worked up over the deliveries I am offered. “$3? Nope! $5 for 12 miles??? Well someone isn’t getting their food for a long time, if ever. Good luck with that!”

PSA: Some people don’t realize how Dashers get paid and think we are employed by DoorDash at some kind of livable wage. Others may not have the extra cash (why are they ordering delivery then!?), and others are simply cheap bastards. I’ve also seen forum posts by customers stating that they don’t include a tip but will tip cash when the order arrives, based on how quickly they get their food and whether it is hot when it arrives. I can kind of see that, but that just shows that they don’t have a good understanding of how the system works. Your tip amount, combined with the DoorDash base pay (usually $3), is a BID to get drivers to pick up your food. Most Dashers I know, myself included, will never knowingly accept a $3 order, and your food is going to sit at the restaurant, get cold, and maybe never get picked up. Add a few $ up-front. I will deliver $5 and $6 orders if they are only a couple miles away, but anything $4 or less generally gets turned down automatically.

I also don’t get too worked up over the way the whole system works. DoorDash’s primary concern is the customers ordering the food, period. The process and the system is set up to try to get people’s food to them as cheaply and quickly as possible. I am not an employee, I am a contractor, and by hitting that “Dash Now” button before the start of each shift I am accepting those terms. If I don’t like it there are other companies I could work for and there are lots of other Dashers willing to complete the orders, with new ones signing up every day. I make money delivering for DoorDash, but I have absolutely no illusions that they care one whit about me at all. I am an easily replaceable cog in the system. Seeing things the way they really are and not how I might want them to be is a key to maintaining a positive attitude while doing this work.

Do I think there are things that could be done to improve the apps? Of course. e.g. – How about alerting customers when they don’t enter a tip that they reduce their chances of getting food delivered in a timely manner, if at all? In the driver app we get prompted to confirm things in several different places, I don’t think one extra pop-up for customers ordering food is too inconvenient, it might increase the odds of them adding a tip amount, which would increase their chances of a driver picking up their food and delivering it. Customer gets their food, Dasher makes money and DoorDash makes money. It’s a win-win-win. But do I think posting about that on the DoorDash subreddit or bitching about what could be better with all the other posters there is going to make that happen? Of course not. So why waste the energy? Ahh yes, to play the sport of “victimhood” that is so popular these days. Or, as Bert Gordon told Fast Eddie in The Hustler: “All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.” Sorry, I’m not playing that one.

A couple of weeks after I started Dashing I got a buddy of mine to sign up. It’s funny to see how different our attitudes are. I’m constantly hearing complaints about all the cheap orders, the customers that give him low ratings, how f*cked up certain restaurants are, and how the system could be so much better (for him) if DoorDash would only do X, Y or Z. He has even tried to lecture customers about why they should tip better when dropping off their food! He gets himself all worked up about it and tries to drag me into the bitch-sessions as well. He’s my buddy so I try and commiserate to make him feel better, but I believe I am much happier with my approach than he is with his, and our overall approaches are reflected in our reviews and ratings in the Dasher app. I don’t think these ratings really have any impact, it’s not like customers have the option to turn down a driver with a low rating, and I don’t think DoorDash uses them for anything other than an additional qualifier for their “Top Dasher” status, which I’ll never qualify for anyway. I just use the ratings as an additional guide and reminder to bring a positive attitude to everything I do, including Dashing, and to do it to the best of my ability, not for external rewards but for inner satisfaction. I’m not always perfect, but I do my best.

One of my favorite quotes is “How you do anything is how you do everything”, and I try to embrace that concept to the best of my ability, even when it’s just making sure that someone’s McDonalds Happy Meal is warm when they get it.

The Restaurants

Ah, what a mixed bag the restaurants are!

First off: never, ever take an order from Taco Bell. Ever. Lobbies are not open, even for online order pickup, and the drive-through lines are always 20 cars deep, spilling out of the parking lots and into the streets.

Sonic, likewise, is almost always a no-go for me, unless it is later in the evening or it is really slow AND the amount is over $7. Every time I pick up from Sonic I buzz to let them know I’m there, they answer and I tell them my Delivery name, and… they forget me. Completely. I ALWAYS have to buzz a second time. Always.

Chipotle is a hit or miss. They start out most dinner shifts strong, getting orders out quickly, they’re often waiting and ready to go on the pick-up rack when I arrive. As the evening wears on and the crowd picks up they get further and further behind and delivery orders start stacking up. I’ve waited with 10 other drivers before, all of us standing around waiting for orders. I’ve also accepted what I thought was a good paying order ($9 for 2 miles? Sure!) or a decent double ($16.50 for 8 miles total? You bet!), only to drive past and see 15-20 drivers waiting outside the side door where drivers enter, and more drivers visible inside through the window. Sorry but I immediately un-assign when it gets that bad, because I can do 2-3 deliveries from other places in the time I would spend waiting for that “good” order.

Chick-Fil-A is always fast at getting orders out, the only issue I have with them is the jacked up parking lot and drive-thru line that gets backed up on weekends, blocking easy access to where drivers pull up to get our orders.

Chilis is usually great, although they can get a little slow on weekends sometimes too. Five Guys is usually slow and their staff are not very friendly or responsive. Same with Steak and Shake. McAlisters, Pie Five, Qdoba, Blue Moose, Panda Express, Oriental Express, Pepperjax, On The Border, Jason’s Deli, Panera, Old Chicago, Red Robin, Wings Etc. are all good. McDonalds is actually one of the best, unsurprisingly they have delivery orders very systematized, although ready times can vary by individual store (the one on Topeka Boulevard is the best). Paisano’s was really good, but the last time I was in I waited and heard a waitress telling a customer that they recently de-prioritized delivery orders because “DoorDash was making money but we weren’t making any money.” I just overheard a snippet of the conversation, but I have definitely had to wait longer there the last two times I’ve been in. I like that restaurant because it is a bit higher-end and orders/tips are usually a little better.

Generally most of the restaurant employees are great to work with. They return my smile and banter, say “thank you”, and generally do their best to be helpful. Like most people they respond to how you treat them – be nice, they’re nice. Be an asshole and they’re flipping you off in their heads…I’ve seen it in their eyes on several occasions when other drivers are rude to them. Amazing how true The Golden Rule can be.

The Customers

I’ve never had an issue with a customer. Part of this is due to the things I wrote about in the “My Approach” section above. I make sure and communicate with them, letting them know if I have to wait for their order, and then sending one of my memes when I am on the way to them. If they respond to this I may send another text or two of banter. If not, I read the tea leaves and assume they just want their food and to be left alone and don’t attempt to engage them further.

Customers ordering food deliveries come from all walks of life. I’ve delivered to beautiful high-end homes in new neighborhoods and in the same shift delivered to tiny, run-down houses in areas of town I would probably not want to be alone in at night. Nicer single-family homes account for 20% of my deliveries with about 30% of my single-family home deliveries falling into what I would call low-income, and apartment complexes make up the remaining 50%.

The Other Dashers

Other Drivers