Joey, 36, is a gig-economy worker who drives for the delivery apps GrubHub and Postmates. He lives in Los Angeles.
I just turned down an offer of $5 to drive an order of Taco Bell from Hollywood to Koreatown. For my own sanity, I never go to Koreatown because the parking is so bad. And I don’t want to get stuck near USC, because everything is like, “Go to McDonalds for $4,” and college kids don’t tip.
If you ask me what my actual job is, I’d say I’m a freelance comedy writer. I’ve written jokes for people’s TV appearances and for Comedy Central roasts, albeit uncredited. I do a podcast that makes money, but not enough to live off of. I do assistant work for a recording studio. I work pop-up retail. I pet-sit. I help people move. Most of the people I know have a million jobs to stay afloat.
So, day to day, I spend a lot of my working hours delivering food. I deliver about 30 hours a week. If I really need the money, I’ll do 50. I used to work a lot more. I’d work myself to death trying to match my old income in the Bay Area, where I was a salaried copywriter and video producer. Now, I’ve just gotten used to being super-poor.
What I haven’t gotten used to is how the customers and companies treat you.
It’s not just college kids who don’t tip. I delivered some fancy Italian food to an A-list actor couple once. There was a problem with the order because Postmates hadn’t updated its website to reflect the restaurant’s new menu. I tried calling the customer to explain, but my calls kept going straight to voicemail — I left about 20 messages in 45 minutes. Customers often don’t pick up when I call because people these days don’t answer phone numbers they don’t recognize. I mean, if you ordered food, you should know someone is going to be calling you.
I’ve gotten parking tickets that were $90 each: two days’ worth of work rendered null and void.
I finally got ahold of the customers, then had to wait another 45 minutes for their meal to be cooked. By some miracle I got the entire order, $160 worth of food, comped by Postmates. I didn’t know they were celebs at the time, since they used a pseudonym. I just felt bad. They tipped me $1.
I’ve figured out which restaurants generally garner good tips and hover around them. Anything fast casual I try to avoid, because the people who order from those places generally don’t tip. I prefer real restaurants, even though I’ll have to wait longer for the food to be prepared. I’d rather go after larger tips than make it a volume game.
Whenever I wait a long time or drive a long distance and don’t get tipped, it’s maddening. I get the angriest when I’m tipped a penny. I’d rather not be tipped at all.
Weirdly, people who don’t tip are usually nicer, because they give you the auditory tip — “Thank you so much, you are so great” — instead of the monetary one.
Most interactions I have with customers are pretty unexceptional. It’s not like a porno, you know what I mean? Think about all the deliveries you’ve gotten over the years. Do you ever talk to your delivery man? There have been some weird ones, though.
One time I picked up an order from SUR, the restaurant from the reality show “Vanderpump Rules.” It was a chicken piccata with mashed potatoes, which to me seems like a very strange combination. I had to wait, like, 30 minutes. It was dead in there, a Wednesday night but empty as hell — at the Vanderpump Rules restaurant, let’s make that clear. I picked up the order, got to the guy’s apartment building, and he didn’t answer his phone for a while. He finally texted me, “I totally forgot I ordered this. Just click ‘delivered’ and you can keep the food and I’ll tip you $10.”
Even the customers who actually want their food are demanding about when and how it should be delivered — no matter how inconvenient that may be. When delivery instructions read “please call upon arrival,” I air-kiss my fingers — that means the customer will meet me on the sidewalk, which saves me 15 minutes of searching for an apartment, not to mention the threat of a parking ticket. A lot of my deliveries are in East Hollywood, where you can’t legally park even if you wanted to. I just delivered to a building with a call box and “no parking anytime” signs everywhere — but the customer, of course, wanted her order delivered straight to her hands. I’ve gotten parking tickets that were $90 each: two days’ worth of work rendered null and void.
To cut the tedium while I’m out on deliveries, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. When I first moved to L.A. I was listening to a lot of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch audiobooks, which are super L.A.-specific. Every once in a while I’d find myself driving on the same street Bosch was in the book; it would literally be like, “Bosch sped down Mulholland and took a left on Benedict Canyon,” or whatever, and I’d be like, “That’s where I am!”
Now, when I’m waiting around, I’ll sometimes look at how I’ve been tipped on Postmates. $1.81 on an order of Del Taco. $1.10 for driving two cakes from one bakery to two different locations. No tip on a giant order from Sugarfish, that super-expensive sushi restaurant, on New Year’s Eve. It’s like scrolling through a list of slights.
Dealing with the companies themselves is no better. Postmates is always cutting its pay, something they try to sell to us workers as a positive. When I started, their guarantee was $5 per delivery. Then it became $4. The email they sent said they’d changed their pricing so that customers “would pay less and order more.” I just got an email saying it’s been decreased again to $3. They didn’t even try to spin it this time. At least they don’t include tips as part of the guarantee, like Instacart was caught doing.
With Postmates, you have no idea what, if anything, someone’s going to tip. You can drive for three hours and make $10. Lately, I’ve switched to Grubhub, because people pay in advance, and when you’re offered a job, it shows you exactly what you’ll be paid, including tip.
If there’s one thing I’d like to impart to people on the customer side of the gig economy, it’s this: be nicer to your delivery people. They’re…people. Also, give them money, because the company they work for is not.
As told to Megan Koester.