On-demand restaurant delivery would be just a figment of a futuristic imagination without considering the perspective of the thousands of drivers who make this industry’s wheels go round. For a taste of the day-to-day experience, I went through driver training at Bite Squad and spent a day motoring about the city with Brent, a Canadian expat who may be the friendliest delivery driver in the city.
My big day as a driver had somewhat hilarious timing as my hometown of Minneapolis had been buried under a succession of late-winter blizzards that closed countless parking spaces and narrowed the city’s streets in and outside of the central business district.
Thinking back to the last times I’ve gone through restaurant training, well over a decade ago, I expected to be bored—but that wasn’t the case, as I was smitten by the proprietary Bite Squad Squadron app that handles everything from driving directions to time-off requests and tracking compensation throughout the pay period. My trainer, Kristopher Rohr, mercifully skipped over the payroll minutiae to focus on the details of order verification by the drivers and also by the restaurants.
Suited up in company green and relieved after meeting the chatty, extremely friendly driver I’d be riding along with, we jumped into the boxy little Prius-C that is the last surviving member of Bite Squad’s fleet of delivery cars, which were recently shelved partially due to the costs and staff time required to keep such heavily used cars in tip-top shape.
Brent started the car, plugged in his phone and marked himself available for delivery. Our first order rang in within a minute, and we were off for an Asian restaurant across the river on the other side of downtown.
Like every other order we picked up that day, we followed a similar pattern that begins with finding a convenient parking space near the restaurant—as every second wasted can impact a driver’s rating by Bite Squad, as well as the restaurants and customers. It’s never easy, especially with winter parking restrictions in full force, but drivers are instructed to use their flashers and place a “Delivery In Progress” placard on the dash to alert other delivery drivers or parking cops to the situation.
Inside the restaurant, Ginger Hop, our kelly green garb caught the attention of the designated staffer who gave us the food and verified it with our driver—making sure every substitution and special request, including cutlery, were included for the customer. After a quick thank-you, and back in the car, Brent and I used the driver app to once again check that all requirements were met and items accounted for.
Without wasting a moment, we hit the road for a suburban office park about five miles away. It may sound boring to describe the lobby, but Brent assured me they’re all unique and can present their own challenges. He explained this as we were met with a digital screen and a virtual receptionist who guided us to search the building directory by name or company. It took longer than expected and, again, every second counts.
After a quick thank-you from the customer, it was rinse and repeat to get back to the car and mark ourselves available for another order. Between orders, we never had more than a few seconds to kill. The volume and efficiency of the Bite Squad setup were impressive from a first-hand perspective.
If traffic and finding parking stress you out, it’s likely that being a delivery driver is not your cup of tea. However, if you like chatting with strangers, seeing inside restaurants you’ve never been, or even exploring strange loading zones and parking ramps for the quickest, barely-legal parking, this job can be a dream—a really pleasant combination of quiet time and stranger interaction. I could see this work appealing to extroverts and introverts alike.
As the afternoon unfolded, we settled into a comfortable rhythm that’s never lazy, but also never felt slammed like serving tables during a rush. Between orders, I asked Brent the typical questions: what are the craziest customer stories, what led him to get into this business and how does he plan his weeks.
Expecting attempted seduction or tangles with police, his most memorable tales were surprisingly heartwarming. He often sees adult children sending meals to their parents in assisted living, mobility-restricted customers grateful for delivery and occasionally needing assistance getting set up to eat, and a few others like night-shift workers who are unfailingly thankful for better delivery options wherever they lived. With that Canadian charm, it was easy to see how somebody like Brent puts certain customers at ease.
By the end of the afternoon and having learned the basics of the Bite Squad app, I wondered if I should inquire about becoming a full-on, actual employee. I could chat with strangers, explore random buildings and cruise around all day, every day, so being a delivery driver seemed immensely relaxing.
It’s worth noting that most third-party delivery services employ independent contractors, whereas Bite Squad’s drivers are actual employees. That means drivers have more job security than 1099-ers, along with other benefits like easier taxes and health care contributions.
Looking through Indeed reviews for what current and former drivers think, there are plenty of complaints about pay, the reimbursement rate for using their own vehicles and about annoyances with dispatch staffers from the corporate office. Brent didn’t have anything negative to say about the work but said he was anxious to get back into advertising.
By the end of our shift, we encountered our fair share of skunky apartment hallways, despondent office doormen and one random hallway dweller who tried to talk us out of our food, but nothing outside of parking was bothersome.
I can’t imagine relying on driving as a full-time pursuit, but if your options are thin or you are supplementing other work on the side, I could see delivering meals as a surprisingly relaxing pursuit—especially for those with endless curiosity.