As the food industry adjusts to COVID-19, food delivery drivers play an increased role

Food | Drink News
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(Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish)

Restaurant owners appreciate reach of delivery services, but see the importance of the government’s cap on delivery commission

Between restrictions on indoor dining and individual preferences to eat at home during the pandemic, delivery services have taken on an even greater role in the food service industry. While some restaurants offer their own delivery services, people are also turning to delivery apps to enjoy a meal from local restaurants in the safety of their own homes. 

Shanti LeBlanc, a delivery driver and massage therapy student, says that she finds work fits into her life with ease because she is able to choose her schedule. LeBlanc is aware of the risk she’s taken on during the pandemic.

“I also think that especially right now, during the pandemic, we’re doing a big service for people that want to be eating out and are feeling uncomfortable about going to these venues themselves,” said LeBlanc. “We’re putting an extra risk on our own well being doing this job right now especially. Being compensated and acknowledged for that always feels really good.”

A November 2020 survey by Research Co. found that 26.3 per cent of Canadians had used a food delivery app within the six months prior. Delivery apps, however, come at a cost.

Delivery services were previously able to charge restaurants up to 30 per cent commission per delivery. Amid COVID-19, the provincial government issued an Emergency Program Act (EPA) in December 2020. The EPA caps the commission that delivery services can charge restaurants at 15 per cent, and will last until three months after the provincial state of emergency ends.

In a press release, the B.C. government says the EPA protects delivery drivers by ensuring that they are fairly compensated for their work. It ensures that their wages cannot be reduced and gratuities cannot be withheld. 

In an email to the Martlet, Sherryl Andrews, owner and director of Ooh La La Cupcakes, says the commission cap has been warmly welcomed. 

“Everyone is trying to find their way through this difficult time,” Andrews wrote. “Any extra dollars are appreciated as it all helps the bottom line.” 

In response to the commission cap, SkipTheDishes introduced a $0.99 B.C. Fee on all orders that are placed until the EPA is lifted. Although many other delivery services include a customer charge, SkipTheDishes is the first to make a new customer fee as a response to the EPA. 

Despite the commission taken by delivery apps, delivery services have allowed some restaurants to reach more customers.

Bruce Stanford, general manager at Noodle Box in the Greater Victoria area, says that delivery services have been overall positive for business since restaurants are able to have a farther reach in their communities with delivery services.

“During a pandemic or without the pandemic, these services are beneficial for the industry,” said Stanford.

With the pandemic, delivery service has proved to be a much needed service for restaurants. Stanford says that he is thankful that Noodlebox is getting through each day of the pandemic. He says it helps that Noodlebox already offered takeout and was on delivery services when the pandemic began.

Andrews has noticed that customers appreciate the use of delivery apps and she still sees many walk-in customers at Ooh La La Cupcakes. 

“We have found that orders [through] the delivery apps continue to increase weekly,” said Andrews.

Delivery drivers are typically independently contracted by delivery services such as SkipTheDishes; they are not considered employees. In B.C., they aren’t unionized.

Gig Workers United has launched a campaign to form a union for app-based delivery workers and is based in the Greater Toronto Area. They support app-based delivery workers organizing for livable wages, workers’ rights, and health and safety for all gig workers. 

Previously, Gig Workers United was known as Foodsters United. In 2020, Foodsters United won the right to unionize from the Ontario Labour Relations Board, after being declared dependent contractors of Foodora. When Foodora, a delivery service based out of Toronto, declared bankruptcy in April 2020 leaving couriers without work, Foodsters United won a $3.46-million settlement to support all affected couriers.

While the food industry adapts to provide services while keeping its workers and the public safe during the pandemic, it’s clear that delivery workers, now more than ever, are a necessity to the service industry. 

Skip the Dishes did not respond to our request for comment.