My Frantic Life as a Cab-Dodging, Tip-Chasing Food App Deliveryman

… The riders are the street-level manifestation of an overturned industry, as restaurants are forced to become e-commerce businesses, outsourcing delivery to the apps who outsource it to a fleet of freelancers.

…At the dawn of the food-app era, back in 2016 or so, companies awash in venture capital paid fat wages with hourly guarantees and some riders made $2,000 a week.

“With Postmates you’d average $10 a job,” said Rodney Chadwick, a courier since 2016. “They’d have a Blitz and the Blitz would be like $15 a job, sometimes $20.”

As more riders signed up, supply met demand and the apps’ generosity evaporated. By 2017, Mr. Chadwick said, Postmates paid $4 or $5 a job. Riders usually do two or three orders an hour.

The riders I talked to average hourly wages in the midteens with tips, though I met a couple of Jedi Masters who cleared over $20. My rookie earnings added up to just under $10 an hour — $5 below the city’s minimum wage.

Postmates says its couriers in New York City average $18.50 an hour. But it counts only the time when a courier is out on an order as part of that hour. The long stretches I spent staring at my silent phone like a jilted boyfriend, waiting for it to ping? Not part of my workday, according to Postmates.

The apps roll out ever-changing and often confusing menus of bonuses and incentives borrowed from the video-game and slot-machine industries, engineered to convince riders that they may yet win as long as they keep playing. But with so many riders chasing the same prizes, they often fall short.

…A deliveryman in the West Village showed me screenshots of a 23-minute wait at a restaurant for which Caviar compensated him all of 83 cents. When I was dispatched to an ice cream store in Times Square that turned out to be closed, Postmates paid me 61 cents for my wasted time, then took it back. “Payout has been adjusted following your request to cancel the delivery,” the note read.

On my first DoorDash shift, a lunch run in Brooklyn, I learned about the company’s interesting tipping policy.

DoorDash offers a guaranteed minimum for each job. For my first order, the guarantee was $6.85 and the customer, a woman in Boerum Hill who answered the door in a colorful bathrobe, tipped $3 via the app. But I still received only $6.85.

Here’s how it works: If the woman in the bathrobe had tipped zero, DoorDash would have paid me the whole $6.85. Because she tipped $3, DoorDash kicked in only $3.85. She was saving DoorDash $3, not tipping me.


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