Home

Picking up Food

“I wrap up the food with great care, and close the packaging in a specific way in order to make it easier for delivery cyclists to carry it around”

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

The above quote shows the extra care taken by the interviewee towards food delivery workers, considered almost as former colleagues. The interviewee Mark explained how, when he used to be a delivery cyclist himself, he used to go back and forth to the same restaurants to collect orders, ending up becoming acquainted with some of the owners. The same happens now with several delivery cyclists that have become familiar faces during his work shifts at the restaurant where he works. In fact, he explained how, when he was a food-delivery cyclist, he developed a friendly connection with a restaurant owner, ending up being hired as a restaurant worker. He terminated his job as a delivery cyclist after approximately 6 months. Asked about his relationship with delivery workers now that he is on the other side of the counter, the interviewee explained how he tries to pay specific attention to their needs.

Prompted to give some other examples, Mark also mentioned how he tries to prepare the food as fast as possible, in order not to let the delivery cyclists wait.

“At first, I was very fearful of getting the disease so I made extra effort to pass the food without getting closer, but still trying to be polite. I recall how, once, a cyclist grabbed the food and kindly said to me: “Don’t worry, I understand, I am afraid too!”

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

An important aspect that mostly goes undetected is solidarity, not only among gig-economy workers but also between restaurant personnel and the recurrent delivery workers that become familiar faces in their daily work routine. In fact, such small actions of support are particularly relevant in the disrupted scenario of the “gig economy”, where individualism and loneliness are daily companions of platform-led work. As food-delivery workers are left without social and labour safety nets, informal, widespread and multifaceted solidarity is developing everywhere. Such collective actions are just starting to be explored and mapped out by researchers and scholars, trying to frame such diverse mutual support. A better understanding of such actions/relations is crucial to bring out “the imbalanced power relations between workers and platforms” . Furthermore, it could help address the specific needs of platform workers (not only in the food industry) (Tassinari & Maccarrone, p. 36).

A deeper analysis of the above testimony, for example, allows us to glimpse some important aspects:

-        food-industry workers are like front-line workers during the ongoing pandemic, yet they seem to think that they are they ones to take care of themselves (and of each other), not having substantial labour rights and protection ensured by their employer, or the state

-        food-delivery cyclists struggle to safely carry the food to destination (i.e. perhaps the design of the boxes should be reconsidered? Or a better vehicle provided by the employer?)

-        food-delivery workers and restaurant workers seem to feel that they are on the same side, with platform services above them in terms of power hierarchy (this aspect, together with the above three, relates to the many responsibilities that are shifted towards such atypical workers, often left without health and work insurance coverage)

-         Time is a crucial element for gig-economy workers. Saving just a few minutes can make the difference (see, Chen and Sun, 2020, for the concept of “temporal arbitrage”)

See also, The Ride

-         engaging on a personal level with restaurant workers (perhaps receiving a nice treatment or a kind word) counterbalances loneliness and struggles faced by food-delivery workers. One could also argue that such brief face-to-face exchanges are precious for food-industry workers, as interactions with customers are becoming impersonal and mostly mediated by platforms.

Therefore, a carefully packed-up meal to deliver, an acknowledgement of shared concerns, the opportunity to use the bathroom, these are all traces that link back restaurants to their social connotation and workforce to mutual understanding. Furthermore, restaurants seem to be seen by delivery workers not as a primary workplace (is it, then, the widespread web net following them around through their smartphones?), rather, the place interestingly seems to gain a higher purpose and meaning, becoming a space of solidarity and social encounter (on the contrary, the link between delivery service and restaurant leads to negative correlations and several possible negative consequences. See, Khan, 2020, for the concept of “technical disruption”).

During this research, engaging in qualitative interviews with the different categories of delivery-related workers with an open, sensitive approach, allowed us to understand the different perspectives and overlapping needs in place. A deeper exploration of such dynamics is encouraged, as many other insights might be gained through an attentive exploration of solidarity gestures in the broader gig economy, giving importance to the many non-tangible traces left in the urban. Moreover, such traces reveal urgent needs that are putting together atypical workers, despite the atomisation and the ongoing transformation of the world of work. Such processes might eventually lead to the emergence of new, unified, political claims or labour movements.


Graffiti in Turin (IT), calling for riders to take up the fight in every city

If not left unheard, such pressure can lead to more inclusive human geographies. By picking up such solidarity traces, the multiple, overlapping needs that happen across the virtual and the real world can be finally taken into consideration. Despite the inevitable difficulties (see, De Souza, 2006), this could even be a starting point to include food-delivery workers as critical urban planners for a better post-Covid world.

Read the full report, here

References

Chen, J. Y., & Sun, P. (2020). Temporal arbitrage, fragmented rush, and opportunistic behaviors: The labor politics of time in the platform economy. New Media & Society, 22(9), 1561–1579. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820913567 

de Souza, M. L. (2006). Social movements as ‘critical urban planning’ agents (Vol. 10, Issue 3, pp. 327–342). https://doi.org/10.1080/13604810600982347

Hubbard, P., Bartley, B., Fuller, D., & Kitchin, R. (2002). Thinking Geographically: Space, Theory and Contemporary Human Geography. Continuum.

Khan, M. A. (2020). Technological Disruptions in Restaurant Services: Impact of Innovations and Delivery Services. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 44(5), 715–732. https://doi.org/10.1177/1096348020908636 

Tassinari, A., & Maccarrone, V. (2020). Riders on the Storm: Workplace Solidarity among Gig Economy Couriers in Italy and the UK. Work, Employment and Society, 34(1), 35–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017019862954