This Spring, overly fearful forces in the universe collided and set the stage for me to take part-time jobs as a driver for DoorDash and Uber Eats. I have a full-time calling as a pastor that has not slowed down during the pandemic, so it’s not like I really needed the work. But my usual 15-20 hours a week coaching Little League disappeared, restaurants desperate for business went to takeout only, my wife’s side hustle (babysitting) dried up, and people trapped inside still craved their favorite vittles.

I also had the perfect lemon for the job: a 2008 RAV4 with 168,000 miles. It’s in good enough shape to work, but I don’t mind piling up the miles, which I do at a clip of about 100/night. It also happens that my wife and I undertook a major renovation of our home and cash is king at the moment. So long as I got all my work done for my day job, I was happy to find a way to earn a few extra bucks.

Here’s what I learned.

It's Humbling

You know how you get to a point in life where you kind of know, like, most everything you need to know, and you’re even kind of the boss? Yeah, that goes out the window. I know what people think of food delivery drivers. They can’t do anything else, they’re under-educated, and probably stoners who only come out at night. Maybe they’re criminals who won’t pass a background check.

As a matter of fact, it does take some skill and smarts to make money being a delivery driver. I had to learn some new things and to this day, I have to eat pride every time I pick up and drop off an order. You know, because I’m a professional and all and not like all those other stoners. Just last night a young kid at a fast food joint had to correct me on what an order contained. So if God needs to humble you, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

But when you go into restaurants, to be honest, no one really likes you. Diners (when they are at the restaurant) see you as interfering with the ambience they are paying good money for, with your shorts and flip flops rushing through the restaurant to make a quick buck.

Restaurants don’t make much money on food delivery; Uber Eats and DoorDash eat up about 30% of the food cost. So they see you as actually eating into their profits, even if you are a necessary evil. As a driver, you might make more on that order than the restaurant and you didn’t even create anything! You just showed up with a 168,000-mile beater looking to cash in, not appropriately appreciating the art of the sushi the chef just handed to you, a sacrifice offered to the Gods of Takeout.

Even the people receiving the food are wary of you. The same people that might trust me to perform their wedding ceremony or bury their father won’t open the door for me. Most of the time, they simply want you to drop the food at their door, take a picture of it, and leave ASAP so they can get their grub on. They do not want you to wish them a good evening or compliment their garden. The don’t even want to open the door when you’re around, lest you’re a creep of the criminal variety.

People Are Great

With all of that said, I’m pretty blown away at how generous people can be. Uber Eats and DoorDash have different payment and ordering procedures. Usually, you know what you’ll get up front with DoorDash and you rarely get tips. With Uber, I know the minimum I’ll get, but it is very common to get tips late into the night for deliveries hours earlier. And I’m often shocked at how kind people are. So yeah, they may not want to meet me, but when they throw on an extra $10 for getting their Wingstop to the door, well, it almost brings a tear to my eye. Generally, while this is a “no contact” kind of relationship, I find that people are almost always kind and appreciative, even though they are paying you for the service.

The Divide Between Apartment Dwellers and Home Owners

I did not realize that delivering to apartments and houses would be such utterly different experiences. Here are all of the barriers to a successful apartment delivery:

- I am not given the gate code ahead of time (why wouldn’t you include it in your notes every single time??)

- All of the buildings look alike!

- The lighting engineer for the apartment complex did not illuminate the building numbers, so finding Apartment #1455 at 10:30 at night is rough.

- There is often no rhyme or reason to building and apartment numbers.

- I cannot operate an elevator in a nice high rise because I am not a resident. You would think the resident would realize that and meet me in the lobby, no?

- Your concierge gave me the stink eye because I instantly scummed up the place with my “working man” presence.

Homes are easy. You have an address - 3, 4, or 5 numbers - and that beautiful front door is available from the street. I always prefer to deliver to homes, not just for the convenience, but, ironically, it seems like homeowners are more grateful for your service than apartment dwellers. A home owner will express thanks and even tip for an easy delivery while someone who lives in an apartment expects you to navigate their unfamiliar maze of a living space for the same money. And you rarely get thanked.

Capitalism Remains Amazing

I am not a particular fan of the Uber or DoorDash corporations, per se. But it really is a miracle of the market that a handful of technologies can come together to create an entire industry virtually out of thin air. And it makes economic sense, unlike some of the boondoggles coming out of Silicon Valley these days. Whereas the pre-planned meal delivery service has been a complete bust, paying someone $7.50 to deliver your meal actually makes all the sense in the world. If your time is worth even $20/hour, it is surely worth it not to spend 30 minutes driving, waiting, and dragging kids to a restaurant to pick up food. Or if it takes you five minutes just to get out of your apartment complex, having food magically appear at your door is worth the extra $10.

Everyone wins, except, perhaps, the restaurant, who would make more money if you were eating there and buying drinks. But, as the restaurant has fixed costs of staff and infrastructure, the only real cost to food delivery for them is the food itself. So it is almost like free money, a small profit they would not have made otherwise.

This business is very typical of the genius of capitalism. Everyone wins with a little skimming here and there. It costs everyone a little piece of their pie and yet, in the end, everyone’s pie grows bigger! The restaurant has some found money, i.e. money they would not have otherwise had; the customer saves themselves a lot of headache; and the driver pockets some cash. And drivers can do pretty well. I consistently make $20/hour before expenses (which, if you consider wear and tear can add up pretty quickly) and have made $40/hour on some nights.

One thing I’ve definitely learned is to have less sympathy for those who refuse to work. Other than a legal automobile, this is a job with virtually no barriers to entry. If I’m willing to drive for five hours after a full day of my real job, anyone can make a minimum of $200/day delivering food if they are willing to hustle. More could be said, but as far as “gig economy” jobs go, it’s a pretty good deal. I’m not digging ditches and making more money than those who do. The only thing I’m really qualified to do that would pay me more money (say, teaching guitar lessons at $40/hour), I could only do for a few hours in the evenings. Now, I work when I want and when I can. And you know, the food never gives me grief.

Photo Credit- iStock Photos