Hours Are Down, Worry and Tips Are Up: What It's Like to Be a Food Delivery Driver During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Courtesy of Vanessa Herron

Though Vanessa Herron is still working as a news editor at iHeartMedia and has side hustle as a screenwriter, her part-time job as an "essential employee" delivering food for DoorDash has been an important source of income for her family during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Still, Herron, who is in her 40s and has worked as a so-called "Dasher" for three years, has seen her hours wane. Before the pandemic, the mom of four, who lives in Thousand Oaks, California, worked up to 30 hours a week making deliveries and earned $20 to $25 an hour on average.

Herron and her family used the extra money she made from deliveries to pay for her kids' college expenses, cover monthly expenses and to add to their savings, she tells CNBC Make It.

Before the pandemic, "I would either wake up really early to write or write late at night when I got home. I would Dash between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. – hit the lunch rush. Then I would head into work for the evening shift as a news editor," she says.

However since "stay at home" orders went into effect, most restaurants have either closed or adjusted their hours, impacting the amount of time Herron can deliver and ultimately make money.

"I'm working fewer hours," she said. "That's in part because the restaurants are closing much earlier."

"A lot of places aren't open late."

The pandemic has also affected the work schedule of Herron's husband, Rick.

Herron says he previously worked as a Lyft driver but is not able to do so anymore. "That's been a huge issue for us significantly with our cash flow and our income," she says.

Herron and her husband had been saving up to start a production company, "but that definitely had to take a back seat to paying bills and surviving right now," she says. Since Rick can't drive right now, "he has virtually no income so the savings that we have, we've had to re-appropriate that toward making ends meet."

Rick has worked for DoorDash before and started to make deliveries again on Monday, Herron says. But she and Rick share one car, which limits time delivering for both. 

"It's been a blessing though to have a bit of a cushion" from delivering food, she says. 

Covid-19 has also impacted the way Herron makes her deliveries, she says.

Although Herron personally does not know of any DoorDash colleagues getting sick, many in the industry fear getting sick and have struggled with taking sick leave.

"I'm definitely much more aware of who is around me and taking precautions," she says. "I think all people who are still working in any way are going to be concerned about exposure and being extra careful."

To ensure safety, Herron practices social distancing when able, and while making a delivery, she wears a mask and gloves. (According to DoorDash, it has ordered over 5 million consumer-grade face masks as well as hand sanitizer, gloves and wipes for its employees.)

"You've got people who are still coming into the restaurants while I'm in the restaurant [waiting for a pickup], and they don't stand six feet away, standing right behind you," Herron says.

But "most customers are asking for no-contact deliveries and that has been a godsend for me. It makes it much easier, as far as the concerns we have about exposure."

Leaving deliveries on the doorstep and texting customers is also more efficient, Herron says.

"I do miss being able to smile at people and one moment of conversation with them, but you can still text and call and smile through the phone and let people know that you are a friendly person and you do care and you're a human being," she adds.

And while making deliveries during this time may be frightening, most customers have shown their appreciation – even at a distance.

Zac Manuel of MOFILM
DoorDash customer holds up "Thank You" sign for delivery worker in New Orleans amid Covid-19.

"I was on a Dash and the man was at his garage and he was pointing toward the door. I was setting [the delivery] down, and he set down a $10 bill and was like, 'Thank you so much for doing this in light of everything happening. I really appreciate you still making deliveries.' It was a heartfelt moment," Herron says.

"I could tell that he was truly grateful and he does understand. People are aware of what we're doing for them and they appreciate it. The gratitude is real."

"That, to me, can be better than getting a good tip, knowing the people really appreciate what you're doing."

Herron says she's only experienced "maybe one or two rude customers" who were upset about delayed delivery times. "I apologize for any delay, and try to explain that restaurants are still trying to balance staffing needs with their new paradigms, and sometimes that leads to longer wait times."

Generally, people are tipping better too, she says.

According to a blog post by DoorDash CEO Tony Xu, "Dasher earnings have increased by $5 per active hour as compared to this time last year, and Dashers are averaging over $22 per active hour over the past week [as of April 3] nationally."

(DoorDash changed its tipping policy in July after backlash when its users discovered customers' tips were going to the company rather than to the delivery people, The New York Times reported. Tips now go to its Dashers. However, DoorDash and other prominent delivery services are currently being sued for allegedly using "monopoly power" to impose "exorbitant" commission fees on restaurants thereby affecting menu prices, including during the pandemic. DoorDash declined to comment.)

As Herron continues to make deliveries, though, her kids have expressed concern about her getting sick.

"But they know how careful I am and that I don't take it lightly," she said. "There are some people out there thinking that this [virus] is an imaginary thing. You have people that aren't wearing masks or gloves. You've got people hanging out at the park that aren't supposed to be there. But they understand that isn't their mother. I'm very careful."

In Ventura County, California, where Herron lives and delivers, there are over 500 cases of Covid-19. The state overall has seen nearly 49,000 cases of Covid-19. 

After coming home from a delivery, Herron changes out of her clothes, showers and takes precautions before interacting with her family again, she says.

"I don't want to bring anything home to my family. We're human too. We have families. We have loved ones. It can be emotionally exhausting to always worry about."

But all in all, making deliveries has been especially rewarding, regardless of the worries attached to the job amid Covid-19, she says.

"We've had a few times where there is a note on the door, and it implies that the person in there was self-isolating or quarantining by necessity," Herron said. "So, I think of those people who really can't leave. There's so much uncertainty but also opportunity to help people in our community."

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