Column: In a Nervous Time, Delivery Workers Play a Key Role and Deserve Respect

By Angela Barbuti

With people afraid to go to restaurants due to the spread of the Coronavirus, New Yorkers will look to food deliveries as healthy alternatives. Last night, Seamless sent out an email to participating restaurants introducing “contact-free delivery.” This means customers can ask that their food be left at their door, in the lobby or at a random location of their choosing.

As the daughter of an Upper West Side restaurant owner, I have sympathy for all the Seamless delivery people who will be overworked and overlooked during this pandemic because I have been in their shoes. Having done every job from waitress to coat check, the job of food deliverer is by far the most demeaning of them all.

At the last Upper West Side Block Association meeting I attended, I heard the typical complaints about delivery people on their bikes. “They go the wrong way,” and “they are a danger to pedestrians,” being the most common laments. However, I’m quite certain that none of the people in attendance have ever had to actually make a delivery, being that it is a job reserved for immigrants. I’m sure customers are surprised to see me, a 39-year-old American, white woman, on the other side of their door.

Since our restaurant only does local deliveries by foot, I thankfully don’t have to endure the nasty looks and horn honking that the delivery people on bikes receive. For me, the worst experiences are always with the doormen in our neighborhood’s luxury buildings, who are permitted to treat delivery people in such an inhumane manner. Even though a customer provides us with their actual address, when we get to their building, we are forced to use their service entrance. It’s blatantly obvious that this rule is just to uphold the look of the residence and not for security purposes, because we are still able to go to the client’s actual door and ring their bell. Food handlers cannot be seen in the lobby, yet it is perfectly fine for us to roam the building unaccompanied, just as long as we don’t ruin the aesthetics of the main entrance.

On one rainy night, I had no umbrella and reached the building, home to several celebrities in the entertainment world. I was soaking wet and the paper bag that I was holding was drenched and breaking apart, so I was trying my best to keep it closed. As I reached the front desk, the doorman stated, “You have to go around and use the service entrance,” and proceeded to give me directions. “Excuse me?” I asked. “I’m completely soaked and my bag is ripped,” I said. “I’m not going to the service entrance,” I recited adamantly. He just stared at me and shook his head, repeating the policy. “I’m not leaving. So please call the customer, who gave this actual address on her order form, and have her come down,” I said. Sure enough, after a few minutes, the woman’s maid came down and retrieved the package.

As we head into a season where deliveries may be the most sanitary option, please remember those who are bringing you your food. While you may have the privilege of working from home, they are putting themselves at risk for your safety.

COLUMNS, FOOD | 32 comments | permalink
    1. Bob Lamm says:

      Excellent, valuable piece. Thank you for writing it and for your work.

    2. Marina says:

      An excellent piece and such an important reminder. Thank you!

    3. ST says:

      They also deserve GOOD TIPS, even when there is a delivery fee, which usually they don’t get.
      Don’t be cheap!

      • BlingBling says:

        fooey on that.

        Fees replace tips.

        Who gets the delivery fee?

        If the worker does not get it, don’t shop at that establishment. Simple.

        • Jon says:

          Or, just call the restaurant. I don’t recall ever paying a delivery fee for an order by phone. Restaurants probably add it to offset seamless’s commission.

        • Parker says:

          Fees do not replace tips. They are a revenue source for the restaurant – which has no legal obligation to provide such money to their delivery staff. If you’re off-setting your tips to account for the delivery fee, you’re doing it wrong.

          • BlingBling says:

            If you’re patronizing a restaurant that’s stealing and pocketing the delivery fee, while falsely labeling it a “delivery fee,” and not dispensing it to the person doing the DELIVERY….

            you, my friend, are doing it wrong.

    4. Lisa says:

      Fully agree. Thank you! I hope everyone remembers what a thankless job this can be, and how extraordinarily privileged we are to have hundreds of restaurants at our fingertips while we remain safely ensconced in our apartments. Tip well!

    5. geoff says:

      If you think about it, the delivery people might spend more time on your order than would your server at the actual restaurant.

      Further, in inclement weather, the delivery gains value. Imagine being in their shoes.

      Then, imagine the feeling of receiving a ten dollar bill or maybe occasionally a twenty, for a delivery.

      Thrilling.

      These people significantly reduce the odds of your contracting the virus.

      This is a time to be respectful, gracious and generous.

    6. S. S. Mein-Kindt says:

      Re: “…customers can ask that their food be left at their door, in the lobby or at a random location of their choosing.”

      IF SO, How does the delivery-person receive his meager TIP? From the restaurant? HAH! From Seamless? HAH-HAH!!

      As Ms. Barbuti shows, these over-worked lowest-on-the-food-chain people trek out in rain/snow/heat/cold to get a few bucks from each delivery.

      Fortunately my building (part of Lincoln Towers ) allows them to use the main entrance, where the desk-person then calls the person who ordered to ensure that the delivery is legitimate.

      Worried about picking up the virus from the packaging? Use hand-sanitizer before eating.

    7. Leon says:

      Thank you for this thoughtful piece. As was noted, we constantly complain about reckless delivery people on their bikes (which is admittedly an issue) yet at the same time complain that they took too long and as a result our wonton soup is a little colder than we would like. You can’t have it both ways!

      And always remember the golden rule…

    8. C says:

      Always grateful for delivery people. Tip generously for their hard work and our convenience. It’s the right thing to do. Now as always.

    9. uws 1 says:

      I am in always in awe of delivery workers, thank you for your insights. If you witness someone not treating a delivery worker right, speak up and let them through the front door for God sake! Absolutely tip well especially now!!

    10. jsv says:

      Excellent piece. Tip your delivery people generously, and especially generously in inclimate weather, or for larger orders. Appreciate that they are often risking their lives to bring you your food.

    11. cosimo says:

      Thank you so much for bringing this all to light. I delivered pizza for 5 years and know about all the hardships and sacrifices one make to bring another food. During these grim times its always great to shine a light and make this life better for all of us. Life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling. this article tells us to watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it. Thank you for writing this.

    12. Elizabeth V Hitz says:

      Thank you for this piece and the reminder to treat delivery people with respect and decency. Tip well!

    13. Julia says:

      If someone is making a delivery outside your door, leave a labeled tip in an envelope taped to your door. Did that today with Fresh Direct.

    14. Context says:

      Thanks for a valuable, much-needed piece. If one more person asks why I’m not working from home, I’m going to lose it. Working from home is code for working on a computer. Working on a computer means you are not working as one of the following: warehouse/stock worker, dog walker, home health aide, nanny, teacher, cashier, custodian, bus driver, postal worker, doorman, receptionist, line cook, etc etc etc.

      Please be aware of your privilege in working from home—now or ever. Realize that hourly workers are not getting compensated for days they take off due to concerns about coronavirus. This will likely lead to increased rates of homelessness down the line. Be grateful that your food delivery people are risking their health just to bring you your meal. Because if they didn’t show up to work, they would lose their job.

    15. Amy says:

      Yes, tip well and tip in CASH. We have no idea if the delivery people are actually getting the tip left on the card with the order.

      • Billy Amato says:

        I always add to the receipt and from the restaurants I order from. I know they get the full tip and I always ask the delivery person as well when i am signing the receipt. To me is safer, just in case something goes wrong in between the restaurant and my residents, God for bid…
        And I salute the customer service staff at Zabar’s and Citarella’s for there personal shopping service and delivery.
        Great customer service between the two stores especially for what is going on today, bravo!

      • Danielle Remp says:

        We offered the first Whole Foods delivery man an additional cash tip, but he would not take it. He stated the “obvious” — that the tip was included in the order.
        For a subsequent order, we clicked “edit” on the total charges to increase the built-in 20% tip, but it was not editable.
        There is a possible problem that cash can carry covid; also in the proximity needed to give the delivery person a tip.
        Let’s hope that many young people are making good money in delivering food right now; they’re in high demand. It seems also that it’s an opportunity for students who are facing interrupted class schedules.

    16. B flat says:

      How much do people tip? I usually tip $4 to delivery person, sometimes $3.

      • lynn says:

        I tip delivery people more than I would normally tip in a restaurant worker (and I tip them well), because of the distance, weather conditions, weight of packages if it’s FD, etc. I have been told by several delivery people that if I do the tip online they never receive it, and that includes GrubHub. Keep in mind that if you do a FD tip online it’s split between the driver, the packaging team, and the person who brings it to your door. I was once quarantined with mono for two months and delivery people literally saved my life, because it wasn’t something I was prepared for. I was only able to get supplies and food because of them.

        Btw, there are stores in the midwest that are making sure everyone gets the supplies they need right now by limiting how much 1 person buys at a time (based on the number of family members), and schools that are about to close are donating the stockpiles of food to community members who need it. It was embarrassing to see what was happening at Trader Joe’s and Walgreens yesterday. And the way people were treating employees at Joseph’s was beyond belief. You really see the true nature of people in a situation like this.

        • B flat says:

          Good to know about Seamless and the others, and not a surprise. I’m a dino in that I call restaurants to order and tip cash.

        • Danielle Remp says:

          It’s interesting.
          It’s said that, at the beginning of a crisis, people are very altruistic and exemplary, but as it wears, so does their patience and temper.
          What happened at Trader Joe’s? How were the Joseph’s employees mistreated? Such nice people at both these stores.

      • Billy Amato says:

        $5.00

    17. marisa says:

      Great reminder, thank you.

    18. Kathleen says:

      Thanks for the article and all the supportive comments. I usually tip $5 to delivery people, but will be more generous now. I’m always appreciative someone is willing to bring my prepared dinner to my home. Grateful.

    19. Stephanie says:

      This breaks my heart to hear stuff like this. Now is the time to be our most generous and thankful for the service these tireless workers provide. Thank you and I hope we can all learn from this. I’m worried that my building is “one of those buildings” and I’m going to talk to the super and find out the policy. If everyone can do this one thing, it will make this awful ordeal a little better for these workers.