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These guidelines were developed after conducting interviews with delivery riders in different European cities. While there might be certain local peculiarities, e.g. regarding tipping culture, our suggestions are based on the riders’ assessment of their customer interaction.


Customer Interaction

Simon expressed feelings of uncertainty and awkwardness around the interactions with the couriers delivering his orders. There were concerns of balancing safety, convenience and cost vs. sociability, friendliness, offering assistance and the labour required to make deliveries.

“That's the one of the things that I'm not necessarily sure that I enjoy about these types of things. Obviously these people are doing their job, but then it's very conflicting to me to think about, should I give tips? Or how much should I give tips? Or, how is the behavior to have the courier that is bringing food? Do you offer them water when they come? What are the do's and don'ts of that sort of relationship with [the couriers], I have no idea. I am still trying to figure that out.”

This interview highlights some of the tensions and uncertainties people still have about their interaction with food couriers. I found the “cultural geography” methodology (Anderson, 2021) useful in analysing these interactions; it allows us to question people's behaviour in these micro geographic spaces of their homes during these interactions. I find it interesting to compare the interaction between a food courier and a restaurant waiter. There are established customs, expectations and interactions in the latter – though they differ from country to country. Tipping for example, is done at the end of a dining experience and often tied to the perceived friendliness, quality of service and quality of food received by the customer. With a food courier, the tipping must be done beforehand, often during the ordering process or directly while receiving the delivery. There are almost none of the restaurant tipping expectations that can be mapped onto this new interaction. For the customer, the experience is much more relatable to receiving a parcel delivery for which there is no expectation for tipping in most countries. The interaction with food couriers then falls somewhere in between the two.

“I have to, I always give a tip. So this doesn't make sense for me to do this in two orders. So I'm just gonna do it in one but then I felt a bit guilty about the poor guy having to carry all that stuff. So I don't know.”

Simon (fictitious name) Berlin, Germany
Resident and consumer of delivery services

Eating delivered food at home is not the same social experience as eating out in a restaurant, and I expect people are not willing to spend as much money for a delivery meal. There is, however, arguably more work required by the delivery process, and the couriers are paid just as little as waiters. I fear that the false comparison of eating experiences and interactions may lead all parties to be dissatisfied with their experience.

Read the full interview report, here

She personally delivers food in the city: “I feel it is the best way to ensure the food arrives undamaged. I drive by car, which is not at all a sustainable solution, but a bike simply would not work. We are adjusting our strategy as we go along in such unpredictable times. Still, when you personally deliver the food it is very rewarding, as you can see the happy faces of customers, especially when the delivery is a surprise”.

Location: Turin, Italy
Interviewee: Sara, pastry shop owner

The young entrepreneur Sara ended up in the food business by chance. A few years earlier, she found out she was completely intolerant to eggs and dairy. As a result, she started experimenting with food. Eventually, with her husband, Sara decided to turn her hobby into a business. In March 2020, she opened up a bakery shop, just when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. As the city became empty during the long lockdown period, she and her husband continued to bake in the shop.

Read the full interview report, here

Through the above testimony it is possible to understand the level of personal engagement of the interviewee, a young business owner struggling in such difficult times to ensure a quality service and to establish a loyal customer base. Nonetheless, throughout the interview, a certain passion and sincere will to engage with customers transpired. In fact, I was warmly welcomed and, during the interview, Sara and her husband engaged with all the customers entering the shop in a nice, personal way. In fact, she explained that several of the customers were recurrent customers (many of which engaged online or through delivery during the lockdown periods). As they bought biscuits and other treats for their beloved ones, they felt the need to share with the shop owners some personal details, while asking for advice on which product to choose.

He remembered how he arrived with Chinese soups spilled all over his backpack to the delivery address. In that case, the young customers were sympathetic: they helped him to clean the backpack and even tipped him. On the contrary, he explained how sometimes, when leaving your bike inside private premises, you can return to find it with flat tires. In general, when you have to enter a building to deliver food it might be difficult to secure your bike. On this topic, he mentioned that there is a kind of solidarity among delivery cyclists so, through word of mouth, some unfriendly buildings are already known among delivery workers. He sadly explained that there are other risks you have to consider: he was once approached by a man in his underpants inviting him to enter the house. Similarly, he reported of a particularly pretty colleague who was in similar unpleasant situations more than once.

Location: Turin, Italy
Interviewee: Mark (fictitious name), former delivery cyclist, now restaurant worker

This other testimony opens up a completely different perspective. In this case, interacting with customers (or with their neighbours) can be a truly unpleasant experience, in so many different ways. While, in the above quote by Sara, the mediation of online platforms helped her consolidate face-to-face relations and to build mutual trust (to some extent), here the delivery worker is treated with no respect nor warmth. Deprived of his/her own individuality, he turns into a mere apparatus of the platform service, arriving at the front door for ‘private pleasures’(Cook et al, 2013). As humans are losing sight of the origin of food products (across the long food chain from crops and produce into ready-made meals) they seem to be equally losing sight of the bodily (and mental) presence of the delivery workers knocking at their doors. By following the food traces, it can be understood how such dehumanisation links back to the poor consideration of food platform services. In fact, it is not by chance that Sara is treated kindly while the average food delivery cyclist might not be. The “just-in-time” workforce is considered as part of a cheap, ready-made series of online services where the customer is not required to engage on a personal level nor encouraged to become loyal to any specific brand/provider. Pointaignly, the terms often associated with such activities are “service”, “task” or “gigs”: “concealing the ‘work’ nature of such activities and their human components. Workers that can be called by clients and customers at a click of their mouse or at a tap on their mobile, perform their task and disappear again in the crowd or in the on-demand workforce materially risk being identified as an extension of an IT device or online platform” (De Stefano, 2016). Sara, instead, is perceived just like your local shop owner reaching the very front door of your house, ensuring the same personal, human touch and hinting at the possibility of a long-term customer-owner relationship.

Read the full report here

REFERENCES

Anderson, J. (2021). Understanding Cultural Geography. Routledge.

Stefano, V. de. (2016). The rise of the"just-in-time workforce": On-demand work, crowdwork and labour protection in the ‘gig-economy’.

Cook, I., Jackson, P., Hayes-Conroy, A., Abrahamsson, S., Sandover, R., Sheller, M., Henderson, H., Hallett, L., Imai, S., Maye, D., & Hill, A. (2013). Food‘s Cultural Geographies: Texture, Creativity, and Publics. In The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Cultural Geography (pp. 343–354). Wiley-Blackwell.