Bloomberg Law
March 20, 2020, 10:31 AM

People Have to Eat, Creating Boom for Food-Delivery Gig Workers

Paige Smith
Paige Smith

Olamide Iyanda started as an Instacart “shopper” at the end of February to bolster her income and ease the stress of student loan payments.

Last Friday, her side hustle became her job: along with countless other employees across the country, she got laid off from her full-time role with a public relations firm in Maryland because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Sunday, Iyanda was so busy delivering groceries she was limiting herself to six trips a day, as the platform encouraged her to travel to different parts of the Washington metro area to catch up on “batches,” or customer orders.

“To the point that on Monday they were saying, ‘We’ll pay $3 more if you go shop in D.C.,’” she said.

As people limit their ventures out and restaurants are forced to go takeout-only in many cities, food delivery services are seeing an explosion in demand during the pandemic. Instacart, which delivers for grocers including Safeway and Aldi, saw the highest ever customer demand on its platform last weekend, and has the most “shoppers,” like Iyanda, that they’ve ever had, according to the platform.

The boom in food delivery services is the opposite of what other gig platforms are experiencing with Covid-19, as Uber driver earnings fall and Congress’s pandemic aid package, passed Wednesday, mostly didn’t cover gig workers.

Restaurant delivery app GrubHub Inc. should see a boost in sales volume as Covid-19 forces U.S. consumers to avoid going out to eat, Mandeep Singh, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said in a report Thursday. GrubHub rose about 2.7 percent on Thursday to close at $36.81, with investors placing an usually large number of bets that shares will reach $45 by March 27.

Restaurants will probably have to use multiple online-delivery platforms to maintain their operations amid growing restrictions in U.S. cities, Singh said.

That includes the food delivery arm of Uber.

Shift at Play

Christina Sa’Vaun Wong, a government worker who’s delivered for UberEats on the side in the Washington metro area for about three years, said she’s seen a pronounced uptick in business.

“Even the fear of being outside for most people has given people like me that do UberEats the opportunity to make some extra cash,” Sa’Vaun Wong said. The nation’s capital ordered all restaurants closed, except for take-out and delivery, as of Monday evening.

About 53 percent of Uber and Lyft drivers surveyed this week say they’re either delivering food now or are thinking about it, even though it usually pays less than ride sharing work, according to Harry Campbell, who operates The Rideshare Guy blog and YouTube channel.

A larger economic shift could also be at play, Rutgers Law School co-dean David Lopez said, affecting the market long-term. He said he’s resistant to at-home delivery, but these circumstances could familiarize consumers with its ease, and “this could be sort of the new normal.”

“This is sort of revamping the economy we’re seeing now,” he said. “A big part of the economy was the service economy.”

Virus Not a Concern

Iyanda and Sa’Vaun Wong aren’t concerned about being exposed to Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, through their gig work.

“I think with proper protocol like gloves, and proper food handling, which drivers and other delivery people don’t really have too much control over since we don’t deal with the food itself, just the package it comes in, we should be fine,” Sa’Vaun Wong said.

Iyanda said she frequently brings groceries to the apartments of elderly individuals and mothers with young children who are “just grateful to have something.” She’s said it’s been difficult to find items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and water, but that customers have been understanding.

“They will tip me really well because they’re glad I can do it for them,” she said.

Busy as she is, the Instacart gig is only a short-term solution for Iyanda. Her previous role paid more than $52,000 a year. She’s made $578 in her three weeks plus at Instacart.

“Until I land on my feet, I’ll be doing this,” she said.

Valerie Bauman and Maya Earls contributed to this report.

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