Interview Report – Former Delivery Cyclist, Now Restaurant Worker

Turin, Italy

29 April 2021, 6-20 - 7.30 pm

The interviewee is 35 years old and he moved to Turin in 2009. Being quite a trained cyclist, he decided to start working as a food delivery cyclist for Just Eat and for a few private restaurants while studying at the university. He explained how, for Just Eat, the expected radius for deliveries was 3km. As Turin has a hilly side, additional 1€ is given for deliveries in that part of the city. Nonetheless, the calculation is not precise so a delivery cyclist might not get the bonus for parts of the city that are already stiff but not included in the ‘bonus area’. He remembered how he struggled to cycle up the hills, despite being trained and having a good bike. In fact, he explained that he preferred working with his own bike, as it was more comfortable. He also bitterly reported how sometimes, at night, he was risking his life by cycling up the stiff narrow roads of the hills with poor lighting and how, most of the time, he did not receive any tips from the wealthy people living in that part of the city.

He mentioned that working for private restaurants was sometimes even worse: restaurant owners did not want to pay delivery cyclists more than platform services (the average is 2.50€ per delivery) and there was not such a strict radius for deliveries. As a result, he ended up delivering food at the opposite side of the city several times. Continuing on the topic of delivery struggles, he reported how the food is sometimes packaged in the wrong way. For example, 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.

Asked about interactions with other delivery cyclists, he said that he was not really in contact with many of them. He was mostly in contact with some former delivery workers that are now running their own delivery service with cargo bikes. Generally speaking, he said that there is the tendency to wave to other cyclists when crossing them on the streets.

As he went back to the same restaurants more than once to collect orders, he ended up becoming acquainted with some of the owners. Particularly with one, he developed a friendly connection and he was eventually hired as a restaurant worker, terminating his job as delivery cyclist after approximately 6 months. Asked about his relationship with delivery workers now that he is on the other side of the counter, he explained how he tries to pay specific attention to their needs. Prompted to give some examples, he mentioned how he tries to prepare the food as fast as possible, in order not to let the delivery cyclists wait. Of course, this means that customers might have to wait a bit longer. In fact, the restaurant where the interviewee works is small (there is another colleague and the owner; they mostly do shifts; there are just a few seats for customers inside), and mostly offer take-away choices. Sometimes, he is alone and he has to manage delivery cyclists plus the customers queuing in front of the door, all waiting for their orders. On top of that, there are orders made by phone. Meanwhile, he has to actually prepare the food. He admitted that, in some cases, he closes down the Glovo app when alone, in order to be able to slow down the work pace.

He explained that receiving delivery orders was crucial to keep the restaurant open during the first wave of the pandemic. The volume of orders was actually higher than ever and quite stressful to handle. At the same time, thanks to the curfew and to the fact that no customer was approaching the restaurant for take-away orders it was, all in all, more manageable. Nowadays, he would rather just handle delivery orders, as having the customers on site makes it more stressful. “Normally, one can offer an appetizer or let them sit to wait. Currently, they have to wait outside on the pavement for their take-away orders, so they soon get nervous and complain if their meal is not ready at the speed of light. Still, they can see that I am often the only one in the restaurant”. He went on by explaining that Glovo often miscalculates times so the delivery cyclist arrives too early to collect the food. He said this is also not fair for the cyclist, wasting a lot of time where another order could be taken in the meantime. The service is also the most expensive one, charging the restaurant 35% on each order’s amount. As far as he recalls, other services charge around 20-25% per order.

Continuing on the topic of acts of kindness towards delivery workers, he confirmed that some of them ask to use the bathroom and they are happy to let them in – in normal times. In fact, this was a bit tricky at first, with the Covid-19 restrictions in place and the fear of contagion. Nonetheless, the impression given is that they usually let the cyclists use the bathroom anyway. The interviewee also mentioned that he wraps up the food with great care, and closes the packaging in a specific way in order to make it easier for delivery cyclists to carry it around. At first, he was very fearful of getting the disease so he made extra effort to pass the food without getting closer, but still trying to be polite. He specifically recalls how, once, a cyclist grabbed the food and kindly said to him: “don’t worry, I understand, I am afraid too!”.

Currently, the restaurant owner is planning to expand outdoors, by granting permission from the municipality for the establishment of an outdoor terrace to accommodate more customers. “It is difficult because there is not so much space around. We might put the terrace on the opposite side of the road, where a hotel is located. I think the place is currently closed but there is a parking space just in front that the owners might want to use again, sooner than later. If we want to put the outdoor tables closer to the restaurant, we have to fight with the owner of the nearby shop – empty and on sale for a long time – complaining that the tables might reduce the value and the attractiveness of the place”.

The interview was carried out on Skype, as the interviewee is currently in quarantine, having got Covid-19. As he has been in self-isolation for the past two weeks, he had to rely on deliveries himself. Still, he explained, he tries to avoid platform services and to order from private restaurants (with their own drivers). A few times he got misled and felt sorry for having ordered via platform delivery services by mistake.

For groceries and other basic needs, he has some friends buying items for him. They leave the bags in front of his door. “It is certainly easier for rich people, they can just order all the time. Also, if you scroll the apps, there are so many tasty meals available that you can end up becoming compulsive!”. “If I were rich, I would probably order all the time but I would give a good tip to the delivery person, every time. If I can spend money on food deliveries, I might as well add some euros to share my wealth!”. Moving forward in the discussion, the interviewee reported how he is also aware that meals prepared at home are certainly healthier, also for the extra care one takes when cooking at a slow pace (i.e. cleanliness, ingredients, etc.). Even if cooking is not his favourite thing, he does not like the idea of food delivery services becoming the standard, daily option of the future. “I miss the connection one can create while sharing a meal. In normal times, I always have friends showing up and we catch up while preparing a good meal together.  It is a way to take care of a friend and to establish a deeper connection, that’s the thing I miss the most and I am looking forward to being able to invite people over again”.

Notes of the interviewer

The interviewee is a friend, and this helped me in taking the conversation towards the topics I wanted to discuss, as particularly relevant (working as a delivery cyclist and then for a restaurant, handling the difficult situation during Covid-19 first wave, being now in quarantine and prone to avoid delivery services, etc.). It was also easy to let the conversation flow naturally, and I did not prepare a detailed list of questions in advance. Instead, I identified some key points to be touched during the interview and left the rest open to his spontaneous inputs. Surely, the interviewee felt at his ease in sharing his thoughts with me, and he was relaxed and chatty throughout the interview. Having the opportunity to stay anonymous made him feel free to share his insights and opinions.

The interview was carried out from 6.20 pm to 7.30 pm via Skype and it was recorded, after granting permission. The above report mostly groups main topic threads rather than following the specific order in which such topics were discussed. Such a choice is made to make it easier to identify key points and to give an easy-to-follow flow and analytic consistency to the many inputs received from the interviewee.