Food News

How Food Delivery Is Working in the Time of Coronavirus

COVID-19 is changing how we do food delivery. (And yes, the CDC says it’s safe.)

March 20, 2020
Photo by @botanicafood | Instagram

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is on track to change every aspect of how we live, with how we procure and consume food near the top of the list. As of writing, 15 states and six U.S. cities have already banned dine-in options at restaurants, and a nationwide call for people to socially isolate and stay inside has substantially emptied the dining institutions that remain open.

This is, as you can imagine, hitting restaurants hard. Many in the service industry have been laid off, and still, many restaurateurs find themselves with no choice but to seek donations just to offer “substandard unemployment wages.”

These circumstances set the scene for an uptick in food deliveries of both the restaurant-made and grocery variety. Meeting the needs of a hungry, panicking public while supporting employees and vendors is a tall order to fill.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at how food delivery platforms are rising to the occasion amid the chaos of COVID-19.

A customer receives food and wine without making contact with service workers. Photo by @ __mollymandell | Instagram

Contactless delivery

In an effort to reduce unnecessary person-to-person interaction, several platforms are now offering contact-free deliveries, in which the delivery person leaves the customer’s order in a specified location outside their home, calls or texts the customer to let them know they've arrived, and leaves without having to hand off the order directly.

DoorDash, a delivery platform in its own right and the parent company of Caviar, has actually made contactless deliveries its default mode of drop-off for the time being. Meanwhile, customers can opt into no-contact delivery during checkout on Caviar, Postmates, Grubhub and Seamless, Uber Eats, FreshDirect, and Instacart.

Increased Sanitation Practices

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there’s currently no evidence that suggests COVID-19 can be spread through food or food packing.

Nevertheless, Caviar, DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub, and Instacart have all committed to following strict sanitary and food safety guidelines as recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), national and state officials, and public health authorities. Not only have these platforms enforced beefed-up cleanliness practices among their employees and couriers, but they’ve also issued reminders to their customers to stay clean via blog posts and emails.

Financial Assistance for Sick Employees

For delivery people and shoppers whose livelihoods depend on their health and ability to travel, concerns around maintaining employment, acquiring paid sick leave, and staying insured are top-of-mind in the event that they get sick in general or are diagnosed with COVID-19 specifically. Luckily, most delivery platforms are stepping up to offer assistance.

Instacart is providing all in-store shoppers with sick pay, plus 14 days of pay for part-time and full-time employees who receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Uber Eats, Caviar, and DoorDash have rolled out similar 14-day pay programs for ill employees. Postmates will not only provide paid sick leave, but also cover medical expenses and copays for couriers affected by COVID-19 through its Postmates Fleet Relief Fund. Postmates is working with Congress to expand a sick leave tax credit to all of its eligible contractors.

On Wednesday, March 18, FreshDirect shared in an email to customers that a warehouse employee had tested positive for the virus. The company’s announcement noted that this team member had been sent home with instructions to self-quarantine, but as of writing it has yet to clarify whether this employee (or any others who get sick) will be compensated for their time away from work.

Caviar has waived commission payments for 30 days. Photo by @baravalon_la | Instagram

Waived Fees for Restaurants

Delivery platforms can charge restaurants anywhere between 10 and 35 percent of a single order, which, as you can guess, adds up rapidly. With the food industry’s future uncertain, every dollar counts more than ever—and, luckily, some of these platforms recognize that and are adjusting their fees in kind.

DoorDash and Caviar have waived commission payments for 30 days for any restaurants that sign up between now and the end of April, while restaurants currently partnered with them will not be required to pay commission fees on pickup orders. Similarly, Postmates has launched a pilot program in San Francisco for newly signed businesses, in which they won’t have to pay commission fees. The company is monitoring the program to see if it can viably expand into other cities.

Meanwhile, Uber Eats has waived delivery fees on all orders from independent restaurants in the United States and Canada. Finally, Grubhub has suspended collection of up to $100 million in commission fees from independent restaurants in the U.S. As Eater has reported, these payments will only be deferred and will need to be paid eventually, so it’s left up to the restaurants whether to apply for the pay suspension or not.

The Four Horsemen in N.Y.C. offers contactless cocktail delivery. Photo by @fourhorsemenbk | Instagram
Botanica, a restaurant in L.A., offers soups, sauces, and pickles. Photo by @botanicafood | Instagram

Restaurants Are Offering Take-Away (among other things)

Going through a third-party delivery service may be your default method for ordering dinner, but as more restaurants are forced to eliminate dine-in options, direct takeaway service, without any middleman, is becoming more common. In some cases, restaurants are even offering to-go cocktails (as long as you order food with your drink).

If you aren’t comfortable picking up your order in person, you can still support your favorite restaurants by purchasing their merchandise or a gift card for future, post-quarantine use. Make no mistake, restaurants still very much want your patronage right now—and recreating the dine-in experience may be easier than you think.

Donations to Local Agencies and Workers

In a move that reminds us to lend help however we can right now, several delivery platforms are looking beyond their own needs and providing support for others within the communities they serve.

FreshDirect is donating fresh food and meals to the Harlem-based NY Common Pantry. Grubhub has added a “Donate the Change” option on its checkout page, which allows customers to round up the cost of their order and send the difference to Grubhub’s Community Relief Fund. DoorDash has partnered with United Way Worldwide to deliver food to senior citizens, low-income families, people with mobility issues, and others who may be in need. Even Sweetgreen has set up delivery outposts specifically dedicated to provide healthcare workers with free meals.

It’s undoubtedly a precarious time to work for a food delivery service—but, for customers, it’s also a great time to order from your local spots, tip your couriers extra well, and, even if you only see them walking away after making a contactless delivery, throw them a smile and a wave.

What are some other ways to support these businesses we love? Share them in the comments!

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Sara Coughlin is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Although she writes about food, health, wellness, lifestyle trends, skin-care, and astrology, she’d much rather talk to you about professional wrestling, rock climbing, and her personal favorite true crime theories. You can find her in her studio apartment doing yoga while a pan of veggies gently burns in the oven.