So That Others May Eat in Comfort: In Praise of the NYC Restaurant Delivery Guy in Winter

March 5, 2015

An under-appreciated hero of NYC, the Restaurant Delivery Guy risks life and limb to deliver food for meager tips when others find it too cold, snowy, dangerous, inconvenient, or [insert your excuse here] to go outside. These were just a few of the delivery workers I saw yesterday on my walk to the office. 

Clickbaiting newsource Daily Beast calls these delivery guys Emergency Workers (#necessities), saying "food delivery is absolutely central to New York and how its crazy-busy population dines." We're not just busy, but crazy-busy

The article frames its understanding of what food delivery through vignettes from the hit fantasy series Sex and the City, so I believe we can be certain that they know exactly what they're talking about. 

Though that writer eventually confesses that what the delivery workers do isn't really the provision of an emergency service, many New Yorkers really don't know how to survive without food delivery. Through repetition, New Yorkers learn to take the service for granted. They stop thinking of the delivery workers as having personhood. They consequently don't tip the worker like they're a person trying to make a living. The tip is just another tax, another service fee, to some. It's easy to rationalize paying a minimal tip that way. They don't think about what it's like on the other side of a Seamless order.

On an average day delivery workers are fighting against the clock for two purposes: to get orders to their respective destinations before the food gets cold and to get as many orders delivered in the shortest amount of time possible. Tips are just a couple dollars at a time, so doing a high volume of deliveries is the only way the worker can make a decent wage during a shift. In the rush to make the deliveries and make the tips, the workers will go the wrong way down one way streets, cruise through red lights, hop on and off of sidewalks, and basically put themselves and everyone else around them in harm's way.

New Yorkers will complain about this behavior in the same sentence in which they complain about their food order being late – without stopping to consider any potential irony. When New Yorkers are not satisfied with the speed of a delivery, they don't tip well, because that's the American way of expressing your opinion of the service. Add this snow into the mix, making even regular deliveries take twice as long, and you can expect very few happy customers, very few people tipping well.

Some workers, like those undocumented ones at the shadier joints, aren't getting a base wage. They get by only on tips earned. That might mean just $30 to $50 per day. They're only keeping a percentage of those tips, with the rest going to their employer and/or a shift manager. When tips are paid by credit card, the card provider is skimming 2-3% off the top in transaction fees before it even gets to the worker.

Workers are typically paying for their own bikes. Buying a decent bikes is an investment towards greater earnings potential. A lighter mechanical bike or an electric bike will get the worker to the destinations more quickly and with less effort. Like any bikes in NYC, the nicer ones get stolen with regularity. A big, clunky bike isn't going to get stolen as frequently, but that sort of bike doesn't get the worker to the destinations quickly either. 

On top of all that which cuts into the tips, you can bet the employer isn't providing healthcare. If they get injured while on a delivery run, they're out of work and not about to earn anything in the downtime.

It all only going to get worse for these workers. There's so much technology in place for increasing the ease of ordering, for providing smooth user experiences and customer convenience, but so little going towards making the worker's job easier. Logistics specialists focus not on reducing workload or easing the work, but on developing more productive processes built on human labor, pushed harder and driven faster. It's a bad place to bebelow the API, in an economic slumpIf one worker can't endure the job's demands, somebody else will take that job. And then one day, the job will eventually go to the lowest cost drone delivery bot. 

I'm not saying people shouldn't order in. If orders aren't placed, these delivery workers may not get paid at all.

I am saying if you're ordering in on a day like this, I hope you're tipping well.

Share this