The Coronavirus Economy: A surge in demand for food delivery has changed how this DoorDash courier works
When the coronavirus outbreak began, DoorDash deliveryman Bentley Koup worried about his livelihood. The former life insurance salesman had been delivering food orders for a little more than two years, using the money he made to support his dream of running his own fashion line. But as consumers stockpiled groceries amid city shutdowns, Koup feared the meal delivery business would slow and diminish paychecks for couriers like him.
“I thought we were going to be in trouble,” says Koup, a 36-year-old resident of Charlotte. “Instead, we got pushed to the front lines.”
Koup is now part of one of the few industries that have grown rapidly during the pandemic. Restaurants have shifted to takeout as regulations across the nation have restricted people from gathering inside eateries. As a result, people are turning to companies like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub to get their favorite foods delivered to their homes.
The rising demand has allowed Koup to cut down his hours, as he makes the same amount of money in less time owing to the high number of orders coming in as well as the increase in tips. It also has changed how restaurants handle deliveries, with many of them working to improve the efficiency of their delivery, on which their business now heavily depends.
Koup, who says he uses a pseudonym instead of his last name for privacy purposes, has been video blogging his journey as a DoorDasher for the past year on YouTube. In his videos, he provides other couriers with advice on making the most money possible through the app. Lately, that counsel has covered making no-contact deliveries—in which delivery agents and customers don’t meet—and navigating new coronavirus-inspired policies at restaurants.
As part of a new series, The Coronavirus Economy, Koup tells Fortune how the coronavirus has changed his job—in some ways, permanently—and what he expects food delivery to look like in the future.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Fortune: Describe your job pre-pandemic and what you enjoyed about it.
Koup: One of the things I love most about the job is when you’re having a bad day, the task is simple enough that you can stay to yourself. But not only do you see and meet different and new people—I’ve delivered to NBA star Tony Parker—but you also see a lot of the same people at the restaurants. I know Miss Robin works at the Chick-fil-A. I don’t know Miss Robin from a can of paint, but I know she has a bad knee, and her birthday is in June.
So it’s the best of both worlds. You can wait until the pickup time, walk in, pick up, and go. But if there are days you’re feeling good, you’re able to talk to customers or people at the restaurants.
How did the day-to-day routine change during the outbreak?
It’s really weird. I know I’m living through history, but I wouldn’t have expected anything like this. One of the reasons why I choose to work downtown is because of all of the people. Usually in the morning, everyone is at Starbucks. At 2 p.m., everyone’s out again. Now, none of that is happening.
The no-contact deliveries are big on the Dasher and customer side. That’s helped and hurt us. On its face, there’s value in not having interaction with customers right now. We set down the order, then the customer picks it up. It’s the default setting. But one of the biggest issues we face as Dashers is customers saying we didn’t deliver their food [because they’re unaware of the new policy]. So it makes the experience a little rough.
Has the rise in demand affected how much money you’re able to make?
I was typically doing six- to eight-hour days and making $120 to $140 a day [pre-pandemic]. Between the last week in March and the first week in April, I could make $140 in five hours.
We’ve seen some crazy numbers. I’ve seen some people make $400 in a 12-hour day. It used to be that $300 a day was a great day, but everything had to go perfect for that. Now $250 a day is standard for 10 to 12 hours. People are really seeing a boost in income.
It’s the perfect storm of more orders and more tips. And there are a lot of first-time customers.
How have restaurants changed how they’re working with delivery people?
Previously, you would walk in and check in with a cashier or manager, get the food, and get back in the car. Now a lot of the restaurants have tables that they sit the food on. Each table is labeled “Uber Eats,” “DoorDash,” or “Grubhub.” So they make being able to walk in and pick up food faster.
Other restaurants have created a plastic bubble by the door. They literally have a plastic covering over the door, and you can’t get within three feet. And a lot of restaurants take a table and block the door so you can’t physically come into the restaurant. They sit the food on the table, and you go from there.
Has the pandemic changed the future of food delivery? In what ways?
I definitely don’t think it’ll ever go back to the way it was. The no-contact delivery will stay. It works for customers and Dashers.
I also honestly think the future of restaurants is really going to change. You had a lot of restaurants unsure if food delivery was going to work for them, but now a lot of them need us. I think some restaurants are going to be Starbucks-sized and do express delivery/takeout like at the airport. You come in one door, pick up the food, and go out the other door. There will be no place to sit inside.
I don’t see delivery going anywhere, but I see the perception of [delivery app] drivers changing. The persona that this is the person who got fired from Pizza Hut will completely change because of the number of people that are doing it now.
Any concerns for the future of your industry?
The biggest concern I’m having is that we’re creating a bubble, and it’ll bust. Eventually, the orders will slow down, and some of the restaurants that were open [pre-pandemic] aren’t going to open back up. You’re going to end up with way more Dashers than orders for some time.