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Observation – Spatial Interactions of Take-away Customers and Delivery Workers

Turin, Italy, popular pizza restaurant at a corner of a street. District: residential, semi-central, multicultural.

24 april 2021

As a non-participant observer, I strolled around the place from around 7 pm. Eventually, I stopped on the opposite corner of the restaurant and observed from a short distance (my role was covert in order not to be obtrusive nor to trigger any reactive response), simply recording the interactions of customers and delivery cyclists/drivers with the surroundings – and with each other. For the purpose of the task, a very lean observation schedule was sufficient. In fact, as decided after a pre-observation exercise some days earlier, I resolved to take notes of the people in place, their behaviours, their positioning, and the average waiting time of each customer and delivery person. I then allowed myself to have space and time to observe quite freely and to include any other aspect that I would mark as relevant (Bryman, 2008, chapters 12 and 19).

As expected, an increasing number of take-away customers and delivery workers (different services) arrived in front of the pizza restaurant. The turnout of people coming and going became more visible and the number of people queuing bigger from 7.40 pm onwards. Without any specific sign or indication, common patterns in movements and behaviours could be noticed: general customers queued on the pavement, leaving just a narrow corridor for pedestrians. They formed a straight line close to the restaurant’s terraces (covered and currently closed due to Covid-19-related restrictions), whilst passers-by took advantage of the space between the customers’ queue and the restaurant’s walls, mostly passing by at a fast pace the small group of people in front of the pizza restaurant. Most of the waiting-in-line customers (17 people in total during the observation time, various ages/genders, an average of 6-8 people in line at once) were single individuals, and mostly remained silent (or entertained themselves with mobile phones or by looking around) while waiting for their take-away orders. In four cases, the waiting party were instead couples (2) or friends/relatives (2), grouped in pairs. During the observation, three cars stopped by the restaurant to pick up food. As no parking space was available, the cars were precariously left at the street corners. In one case, the driver was a delivery worker who collected deliveries from two different close-by restaurants and placed them in the car (inside the usual delivery box/backpack).

In total, 7 delivery individuals (all male, between 20 -30 years old, 5 with foreign features) were registered: 4 Glovo (1 hand scooter, 3 bicycles), 2 Just Eat (1 car, 1 bicycle), 1 UberEats (bicycle). Upon arrival, the delivery persons all jumped in front of the queue to show to the restaurant’s personnel the orders on their phones. While waiting, they leaned their bicycles on the restaurant’s premises (walls or terrace). The bulky, squared delivery backpacks were instead left on the pavement. As a consequence, the pedestrian corridor became even narrower. While waiting, the delivery cyclists remained at the top of the line, sometimes keeping more distance from the other general customers (less from each other). Take-away orders were processed in approx. 15-20 minutes, whilst delivery food was out and away in less than 10 minutes. In a few cases, it could be noted how the take-away customers grew impatient through their increased bodily movements (small steps back and forth, more looking around, etc.). More interestingly, as the waiting time increased, the physical distance between the people in line became smaller as if, by squeezing in to be closer – thus making their physical presence more visible – their order would be processed more quickly. Nonetheless, none of them objected to the fact that delivery orders were dispatched in advance. For the time of the observation, no cross-interaction among customers and delivery cyclists was registered.  

It would be interesting to repeat the observation exercise more than once, and under different conditions (weather, no restrictions in terms of customers seating in the restaurant, etc.). In this way, it would be possible to outline customs and peculiarities. Also, the fieldwork should be integrated by interviews to several parties involved (restaurant personnel, customers and delivery workers) to investigate further on their behaviours and feelings.