I’ve been working for DoorDash and Postmates for a month. Here’s what I’ve learned.

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Just over a month ago, I quit my job in Ohio and moved back down to my home state of Georgia, with plans to go back to school and pursue a computer science degree. Classes don’t begin until June, so I knew I would need to get a part-time job to help pay the bills. While the search for a more traditional part-time job in retail or food service continues, I have been filling my time with delivering food for both DoorDash and Postmates, two popular food delivery apps.

Similar to Uber and Lyft (in fact, Uber has their own food delivery service, Uber Eats), DoorDash and Postmates utilize the ride-sharing business model, though instead of transporting people, drivers are transporting food.

I have wanted to work for both Uber and Lyft for a while, but thanks to a few traffic tickets, I could not pass the background check required by both services. The background check is still required even for Uber Eats, one of the main reasons why I instead signed up for DoorDash and Postmates, whose on-boarding process was little more than a criminal background check and setting up direct deposit.

Since signing up at the end of March, I’ve clocked close to 65 hours and well over 150 deliveries between the two platforms; I often run both at the same time. Which leads me to my first discovery…

The two services don’t work well together

How busy each service is depends on a lot of factors, including location and time of day, but for the particularly busy parts of the day (i.e. lunch time, dinner time), it’s not uncommon that an order will come in on both services either at the same time or, more often than not, a Postmates order comes in the middle of my DoorDash delivery, or vice versa. That scenario is the worst of the two, because it’s often too late to cancel my first delivery if the second seems more enticing.

The absolute worst is when the second delivery is in the exact opposite direction of the first delivery. Obviously, Postmates and DoorDash, as competitors, are not meant to work with each other, and don’t know each other’s deliveries, so coordination is impossible. Still, the frequency with which this happens is staggering.

In my experience, it comes down to a judgement call on the driver as to whether to take it or not. DoorDash does have time “limits” on when an order should be picked up and delivered (Postmates does not have that), but nothing seems to happen if the time lapses. This is understandable, since traffic is entirely out of DoorDash’s control. I’ll admit, I’ve picked up and delivered food nearly an hour after the scheduled time, with no consequence from the app. Once or twice, I’ve gotten blowback from the customer, but most seem happy enough to get their food that they don’t mind. There are those customers, however, that carefully watch your movements when you accept the delivery.

You are being tracked by a machine, and possibly by a human

I have not tried out either service as a customer, so I’m not entirely sure what level of access a customer has to the driver during a delivery, but from the occasional comments I’ve received, I can surmise that customers on both services have the ability to track the driver, at least after the food is picked up. If it’s just after the food is picked up, then most of my customers would see me driving directly from the restaurant to their house. Most of my “antics” are done before I arrive at the restaurant, and I’m not sure if the customer can see me heading in the opposite direction for a delivery on the other platform.

Occasionally, the app itself will step in and warn the driver that they are heading in the wrong direction and that the order will be given to another driver if you don’t start heading to the restaurant. This monitoring is very inaccurate; I once was an hour late picking up a DoorDash order because I took a long detour in the opposite direction for gas, and received no warning. Later that same day, I was warned that I was heading in the wrong direction, when I was two miles down the road heading in a straight shot toward the restaurant.

Postmates seems stricter about this than DoorDash. I can only recall one DoorDash order I had revoked, compared to over a dozen from Postmates, because I was trying to balance orders on both apps at the same time. Postmates, however, only says the order was “cancelled,” so I’m not sure if it was the app canceling my delivery because I was heading in the wrong direction, if the customer intervened or if the customer legitimately changed their mind about the food.

As the driver, I have no control or really even a guess as to how hawkeyed the customer is going to be about my little vehicle icon on the map on their phone, but as I said before, only once or twice has a customer complained to me about it.

I’ll admit, it isn’t fair to the customer to waste their time and clock unnecessary mileage, particularly on Postmates, which pays drivers a small rate per miles driven. That money is ultimately coming out of the customer’s pocket. That’s partially the reason why I like DoorDash more.

DoorDash is more organized

A few weeks into my career as a delivery driver, DoorDash released a semi-major update to its driver app that, in addition to some great UI refinements, changed how the app functioned. As they discussed in their orientation (yes, DoorDash has a local Atlanta office, and drivers are encouraged to attend before making deliveries), drivers are able to schedule their time slots in various districts (in my case, in and around Atlanta) up to a week out. This option makes DoorDash feel like more of a potential full-time job, though the time slots in the future, at least for me, are sparse, and often at odd hours such as midnight to 1 a.m. You can also dash at any time, as long as there is need in a certain district. If you’re not in that district, however, forget it; the “busy” warning disappears within seconds, and by the time you swipe open the menu, go to “Schedule” and find the busy district and time slot, it will be filled. Or, it’s for 30 minutes, and it’ll be over by the time you get there. Unfortunately, only two weeks with the new changes has made me forget how the old system worked, but I do know that the new process seems less efficient. DoorDash, if you’re reading this, please consider revoking some of the recent changes.

Postmates, on the other hand, feels incomplete. Unlike DoorDash, Postmates does not have any schedules or zones (other than semi-arbitrary “busy areas” on its in-app map), and users can simply come online and start working (posting? mating?) anytime they want. While it’s far less restrictive than DoorDash, which just won’t let you work if you’re not in a specific zone and on a specific scheduled shift, it doesn’t offer any real guidance or assistance in finding orders. DoorDash recommends specific outposts near supposed busy areas, and in just a click, can open navigation to the outpost. Postmates, outside of the busy map (and even those don’t guarantee business), doesn’t offer any similar thing, and drivers are left to their own devices to find orders and popular areas.

The delivery process for Postmates also seems incomplete. Both have the driver indicate when the driver picks up the food and when the driver has delivered the food, but DoorDash also has the driver “check in” when they arrive at the restaurant. I’m sure this alerts the customer that the driver is at the restaurant and picking up the food, and to show that any delay between the driver’s arrival and the driver picking up the food is more the fault of the restaurant and not the driver. This doesn’t do much for the driver, however, since as far as I can tell, that time between arrival and pickup does not count for anything on DoorDash; you don’t make extra because you had to wait 20 minutes because the restaurant staff was slow.

Like I said, Postmates lacks this check-in feature, despite the fact that probably half of my Postmates deliveries require me to order the food when I arrive at the restaurant and often wait for the food to be prepared. DoorDash also has orders where the driver places the order and pays when they arrive at the restaurant, but most of the time, it’s picking up food that is already ready to go. Unlike DoorDash, Postmates has explicit rates that it pays its drivers for waiting for food (something like $0.09 or $0.12 a minute), but how they determine when “driving” ends and “waiting” begins is unclear. I’d like to believe it’s the time between the swipe of the prepaid card and the driver clicking “Completed Pickup” in the app, but I’m not certain.

You make more with DoorDash

Popularity aside (I think DoorDash has more brand recognition, and therefore probably more users, meaning more deliveries for drivers), DoorDash offers more money upfront, whereas Postmates seems to hedge its bet on driver tips. As I said earlier, I’ve never used either as a customer, but from users online, I’ve heard that Postmates apparently pushes tipping to the customer a bit harder than DoorDash.

A quick look at my apps shows I’ve actually made slightly more from Postmates than DoorDash in the past month; remember, I usually run them at the same time, though because of DoorDash’s schedules, there are often times where I’m only active on Postmates. The difference is largely chalked up to tips from customers (the real difference maker being a rather large $38 tip that was likely an error on the customer’s part), so your own results may vary. Still, while it’s obviously benefited me, I’m not one to rely on the kindness of strangers; if I were in their shoes and just spent $50 on lunch, I’m not sure how willing I’d be to tip, but then again I’m pretty stingy with my money anyway. There’s also little interaction with the customer; outside of a smile and friendly greeting, there’s nothing I can really do to stand out and provide a customer service experience that is worthy of a high tip. On the flip side, the customer tracking me and seeing me make a wrong turn on my commute, or traffic beyond my control, and I can kiss my tip goodbye.

I’d rather take more money upfront from DoorDash (often $7 or $8 versus a guaranteed $4 from Postmates) than hedge my bet on a good tip making up the difference.

It’s been normalized

Thanks to years of Uber and Lyft, the concept of ride-sharing has been normalized in our society, to the point of mass adoption. People are more comfortable with the idea of an average person using their personal vehicle to make trips and deliver things (the fact that, unlike taxis, the pre-ride-share version of food delivery didn’t have a bad rep also helps).

Of course, the customer base can only be served if there’s a wide restaurant participation, which it seems there is. Everything from chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A to local mom-and-pop diners seem to partner with DoorDash and, though to a lesser extent, Postmates, oftentimes prominently displaying banners and decals indicating that customers can order their food on the apps. What surprised me most, however, is restaurants that already deliver on their own partnering with the services. I could understand DoorDash and Postmates offering these restaurants that previously didn’t or possibly couldn’t deliver a chance to reach more customers, but something about walking into a Papa John’s pizza shop and asking for a DoorDash delivery felt wrong, like I was infringing on their territory. It also made me wonder about how much cheaper it must be to get a pizza delivered from DoorDash rather than from Papa John’s, which made me consider how cheap my labor must really be in the grand scheme of it all.

Oftentimes I think I’m more in the tech weeds than I really am. At least once I expected, perhaps an older Chinese lady at a Chinese restaurant, to not understand what DoorDash was. Not once did I run into that situation with either platform (obviously, if the order had been placed with the restaurant, they are aware of the service; I’m talking about when Postmates makes me walk in and order for the customer directly).

There’s also a crap-ton of these services. DoorDash, Postmates, Uber Eats, GrubHub, Zifty, Shipt (that’s for groceries), I just learned about Amazon Restaurants the other day from a restaurant decal. Is that too many? Not enough? Personally, I think DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub have the best chance of survival, given their name recognition; then again, clearly enough people know about Postmates for it to work in Atlanta, and Amazon Restaurants has the power of Bezos behind it.

The last few weeks have been fun. Until I find a more solid part-time job, one that doesn’t burn through $30 of gas every three days, I plan to continue dashing and posting/mating. I did, early on, think about turning it into a full-time job — between the two services, I’m averaging $10 an hour every time I go out — but I’ve yet to do it more than three or four days a week, and just one low-demand day could ruin my expected paycheck. I’ll continue to use both services, despite my gripes and the balancing act I have to play between them, as long as it continues to be fun. Plus, a little extra spending money is a nice perk.

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