If you’ve treated yourself to Seamless or another delivery app lately—as most city-dwellers have—you may have noticed a curious new thing.
You’re tracking the food’s arrival, and finally, it’s here. The driver arrives near your place, but instead of bringing the goods to the door and knocking, they text or call and say, “I’m outside.” They want you to come to the curb and pick it up yourself.
Does it make you an asshole to expect delivery to be brought to your door?
First off, it’s hard to get a handle on how underpaid and abused delivery drivers are. They’re the grunts in a multibillion-dollar operation that’s rapidly expanding, for which they are not compensated anywhere near enough. UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates are raking in dough hand over fist, and one way to “contain costs” is to do what GrubHub just did: convince the courts that their drivers are not regular employees but contractors. They cost the company 30 percent less, and critically, GrubHub doesn’t have to give them any real perks or job security.
Some drivers for delivery apps complain about how they “work for less than minimum wage with no health insurance, and doing a fairly dangerous job.” But others insist it’s a viable full-time career, that they can deliver food for 40 hours a week, and in one case, pulled in $3,500 in three weeks. Another said that “with hustle and a few exceptional tips,” they can make it work.
Still! You’ve already paid for the order, including tax, a delivery fee and a service fee, plus a 20 percent tip. The expectation when you enter your address and the restaurant accepts your order is that food will be brought to the house or apartment, not the general block or the building. This seems simple. You would not go to a restaurant and take too kindly to a server telling you to go grab your own water from the back.
People in a number of cities have been complaining it about it for years.
Forums, too. The same complaint shows up on Yelp about D.C. On Lipstick Alley and Data Lounge and Gothamist about New York. On NeoGAF about pizza delivery in Madrid. On Reddit about getting pizza in general.
Recently, an agitated consumer wrote in to the Takeout’s column, the Salty Waitress, to ask how to handle this sort of thing. The question reads, in part:
There’s one delivery place that won’t actually bring the food right to my door. Instead, they call my cell when they roll up in front of my apartment building and demand — yes, demand — that I meet them out on the front steps to pick up my order.
Now, this is only a minor inconvenience. I play along because I’m able-bodied. It’s just that I’ve never heard of this practice before and I think it’s a bit presumptuous. What if I had a disability and couldn’t easily leave my apartment? What if I were a single mother with children I can’t leave unattended? You see what I’m getting at.
The advice-seeker asks the driver at some point why they won’t bring it up, and the driver tells them it’s a “real time-saver if people come out.” The letter writer notes that it certainly doesn’t feel like a real delivery if they have to leave their house, and wonders if they should “take a principled stand and request they bring the food all the way to my door?”
I asked a few people online why drivers might refuse this final crucial step in the process. One woman said she “always went to the door unless there was a notable dog problem.” One guy who said he delivered food for a year said it never even occurred to him to ask someone to come outside. “If I didn’t get out of the car, it was because the customer was already standing outside my car door,” he wrote.
But what people do rather than confront the driver — you don’t want anyone spitting in your food — is just make up for it by reducing the tip, which sucks when this is clearly what the drivers rely on.
As for why delivery people are doing it, I found some answers: Gothamist says that, in NYC, being robbed is a real possibility. They also note that this is a stupid first-world problem. Hey, maybe it is, but it’s also not mutually exclusive. One can both treat a service person with respect, and tip them well, and honor that relationship, and still want to get their money’s worth on a service. (For the record, I tip 15 percent only when the service is bad.)
On the Salty Waitress post, a commenter weighed in who seemed to have the answer:
the real problem is customers that do not consider their unique situation before ordering. If you know your shit is weird, SAY SOMETHING OR DO SOMETHING. If your building tends to be lockdown all the time, bring your ass down. If your building doesn’t have access from the road, surrounding instead by other buildings and can’t even be seen normally, come to the damn street. If you have a disability and cannot come down, then give the best directions of your life in the delivery notes. I guarantee the policy of that restaurant to not leave the car stemmed from the batshit crazy way customers believe that delivery drivers will simply “know.”
So aside from making sure we’ve killed it on our delivery instructions for any strange delivery issues, it seems our only recourse is tip less, or ask the driver to mosey on up. That’s what the Salty Waitress ended up advising. Or, they say, if you’re physically capable, just suck it up and walk.
What I’d suggest is next time your order arrives and the phone rings, don’t hem and haw, just say: “Go ahead and come on up, thank you very much.” What’s going to happen? Is the driver going to refuse and you two end up in a Mexican standoff? Don’t make it sound like a request, say it like a statement. If he does come up, tip well — and maybe he’ll get the hint.
And what happens if the delivery person makes some excuses and insists you come down? Let me pose a question: Is the food from this place really that great? If it is, then it’s probably worth it for you to clomp down the stairs occasionally to pick up the food.
Of course, if the reason is that the driver is unable to make it up the steps for any reason due to a disability, accommodate if you can, assuming you have no young children to watch or a disability of your own. If they make it clear they are having a lot of trouble finding parking, maybe. Anything else? Tough call. Is the food really that great?