You’re hungry but you just don’t feel like going out. Not to worry. There’s an app for that. Take your pick: Postmates, Instacart, Uber-Eats, Doordash, GrubHub, WaitersOnWheels, FoodToYou, and more. You don’t even have to call the restaurant. And you never have to step outside. Just download the app, place your order, and BAM! Mr. or Mrs. Cheery Face will deliver your dream meal right to your door in record time and with a big smile.
App developers for food services are on to something big and making a handsome profit. All of the companies are run by self-made entrepreneurs, some as young as 24 years old like Stanley Tang, co-founder of DoorDash with Evan Charles Moore, Andy Fang, and Tony Xu.
“DoorDash is very much a software, technology company,” says Tang. “We don’t actually own any physical infrastructure, such as cars, warehouses, GPS systems. Instead, we build software and use mobile to create a platform that connects drivers who have excess time with merchants who want to offer deliveries.”
These services have an unlimited market: busy moms, agoraphobiacs and germaphobes, the stressed-out and super-busy, the anti-socialites, and the “I want-XX-but-I-just-don’t-want-to eat-out.”
HI TECH APPS, LOW SSQ?
There’s only one thing that the heads of these companies forgot or failed to build in: a social skill quotient that keeps their independent contractors and customers happy.
And as we all (should) know, happy workers translate to happy customers.
Most of the customers I talked to love the food delivery experience but that same sense of satisfaction seldom applies to the independent contractors who make the deliveries.
“We’re like indentured servants,” says Corey Brandt (not her real name) who works for Postmates in Los Angeles. Postmates was founded in 2011 by Munich-born, Bastian Lehmann and co-founders Sam Street and Sean Plaice. The company operates in 70+ cities.
“I use my car and my gas, and I have to pay for parking if I can find a place to park,” Brandt says. “You take a job and they tell you it’s only two miles from your current location but they never tell you exactly where until you pick up the order. Two miles in Los Angeles could be an hour or more from start to finish if traffic is tied up.”
Brandt says the flexibility is the best thing about Postmates. She logs in as soon as she drops off her kids at 8:45 AM. She has until 2:00 PM to squeeze in one delivery an hour. For six runs with Post Mates, she earns approximately $40 to $60, depending on the distance and the cost of the order. She’ll get a check within a week.
“Some days are good, most are disappointing,” says Brandt. “Without decent tips, I am just making enough to pay for gas.”
“I’ve worked for three different companies,” says Joel (no last name) “and they’re pretty much the same when it comes to fair compensation. It’s impossible to earn what they claim you can (up to $20 an hour) unless everything runs super-smooth. You would need three runs in an hour, no waiting in line to pick up the order, and clear traffic,” he says. “That’s not happening.”
Most workers stress their real source of income is from tips. But every company charges the customer a delivery fee so the customer is not eager to hand over more money.
“They think they already paid a tip when they paid Post Mates $4 extra for a $10 food order,” says Brandt. “It would be helpful if they built a tip into the order and set up a minimum amount for a delivery–like $10 instead of $3 for a giant Slurpie. You can’t expect a customer to tip on a $3 order that they paid $5 or $6 for, after the delivery fee.”
But there’s that missing link again- the one-on-one social skill formerly known as “talking.” Unless there is a problem with an order, all communication is handled through the app. In a perfect world, customer places order by app. Company relays order to driver. Driver picks up order. Driver delivers order. Customer is happy. Occasionally, the customer does not answer the door when the driver arrives and the driver contacts his company for further instructions. If the company asks the driver to wait “just a few minutes more” that’s time without money. Sometimes drivers have to negotiate for additional compensation when things go wrong.
With the Postmates’ system, customers have up to a week to throw in a tip. “The app shows a tip is pending,” says Brandt, “but that doesn’t mean squat. It just means the company hasn’t closed out the order. You may wait for a week to find out if anybody tipped you. I had five runs one day for a total of $30 in four hours and zero tips. That’s like $7.25 an hour.”
In the comments section of Indeed.com, a current worker at PostMates writes: “Postmates is very unprofessional. They only care about the bottom line, turnover is high, and if you want to be in the maze of deceit, turn in an application. Terrible career choice.”
A former employee writes “The management is not transparent and does not want to share vital information like what the compensation is, rates, what mileage you’re actually compensated for on each job. I was once told that we get eleven cents a min for waiting (for food) once a job has started. SERIOUSLY? Basic math can tell anyone that is not even minimum wage.”
Some Postmates workers have even set up a Facebook page—Strike Against Postmates—to encourage a class action suit against the company.
One poster writes “Postmates’ business model is entirely based on exploitation. They are more concerned with their company’s bottom line than providing a halfway decent job for people who bust their ass riding all over streets in so many cities. They’re expanding into new cities all the time, they have money to throw at their developers, office personnel, and laughably bad dispatch, but somehow they can’t afford to pay an hourly wage to those who ride in crappy conditions for almost no benefit.”
LOOK FOR THE RED SHIRTS
Recent on-line comments from DoorDash workers at “review” sites seem to be more positive, especially from younger workers and students.
“It’s a great part time job or second job” says a “Dasher” from Atlanta who likes the flexible hours. “The money is decent and I can work around my classes.”
Some suspect (but can’t prove) that Doordash may have a “glitch” in its software that penalizes certain workers and favors others. “Sometimes it feels like they punish us if we don’t log on consistently or if we turn down a job that’s too far away,” says a Dasher in Berkeley. He and others report waiting for an hour or more waiting for an alert after logging on. “That’s not paid time. I’m just sitting there, feeling unproductive and broke as a joke.”
Workers for both DoorDash and Postmates point out that GPS systems are useless when there are deliveries in remote areas and directions from the company are vague. Sometimes the delivery is for a business in a high rise building where the workers must pay for parking when there are no accommodations for couriers. Some buildings have three or four different entries and the mother company that took the order doesn’t specify which one to use.
“I racked up $200 in parking tickets in the first two months,” says Dan Brogan (not his real name either) “and I only cleared $600 my first month after I paid for gas, plus I only got $50 in tips. Postmates offered me a free bag but wouldn’t even mail it. I had to drive 30 miles to their office to pick it up.”
“These guys need to be regulated,” says Lori Gordon who works for Seamless GrubHub in New York. “How do they get away with paying less than minimum wage? They should guarantee a minimum tip even if it’s a percentage.”
One Instacart worker who delivered a single bagel to an apartment that was three blocks away from the customer’s house, says “That was a $2.89 order that took me 45 minutes to drive to, stand in line, and deliver, and of course there was no tip.”
Enter a new problem. Some restaurants say the delivery process compromises the quality of their food. Seattle restaurant owner, David Meinert of Lost Lake Cafe, is concerned enough to seek legal advice to block food delivery services from unsanctioned partnering with restaurants.
Meinert complained that Postmates was delivering without his permission “and some food items just don’t travel well.” Postmates was allegedly putting up menus with incorrect or non-existing food choices or wrong pricing.
Postmates’ terms on its website state that it is not liable if there is something wrong with the food delivered. According to David Steigman, health communications specialist for the FDA, “Postmates isn’t a food establishment as defined in the food code, so it isn’t regulated under the FDA’s jurisdiction.”
“What if someone gets food poisoning?” Meinert asks. “Who’s responsible? Services like this take away our quality control, and potentially endanger our customers.” Meinert’s general manager at Lost Lake tested out the system by ordering through Postmates one day. He alleges the food arrived in the back seat of the driver’s car where a dog shared the space.
Another unanticipated problem with all these popular services is that drivers bunch up at the entrance of a restaurant to pick up an order. This puts extra stress on the host and makes the wait seem longer than it is, which discourages eat-in customers.
Travis Rosenthal of Seattle’s Tango says when to-go orders are called in, the restaurant loses the opportunity to personalize its service. “When orders arrive that are wrong, cold, soggy, or have another problem, guest complaints are often called into the restaurant or registered on Yelp or elsewhere online.”
BOOST MORALE AND THE BOTTOM LINE
So, yes, the concept is solid and the wizards of food apps are eating all the way to the bank, but they forgot about human error, the human touch, and most of all, they forgot to take care of their first customers–their own contractors.
Little things mean a lot to hourly workers, who usually have no health benefits. Simple, inexpensive perks such as a free shirt or sweatshirt, a hands-free phone mount for the dashboard, maybe a partial contribution to upgrade an existing phone for better communication, auto mileage reimbursement–are investments in human capital that would make a very small dent in the company budget, make workers proud to be part of a life-balance culture, and boost morale.
|“Talk to the people who work for you,” says one reviewer. “We are people not just numbers.”
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