Saturday, April 27th was a fun day in Calgary, Alberta. Snow isn't out of the ordinary in April for Calgary. It's not even unusual in May or June. But the conditions on Saturday were pretty unique, at least for the 20 years I've lived in Calgary.

I may be biased this time since I usually stay inside for spring snowstorms, but this 'second winter' was definitely more intense than normal. If you think that means I won't be out there driving for Skip the Dishes, trying to capitalize on hungry, holed up Calgarians, you're crazy. Or maybe I'm crazy.

It's probably the latter.

Let's start this out with some stats:

  • Snowfall: 13.4 cm
  • Winds: 60 km/h, gusting to 80
  • Cars spotted in the ditch: 3
  • Emergency vehicles: 5
  • Snowplows: 0
  • KM driven: 203
  • Orders completed: 13.5
  • 0 tip orders skipped: 5
  • Money made: $143.86

Before expenses, I made just under $12 an hour. Using my expense estimate of $0.50/KM, my vehicle expenses came out to $101.50. Meaning I made a grand total of.... $42.36. Which is $3.53 per hour. Ouch.

You might be wondering about the half order. I picked up a sushi order that was clearly sitting for a while. The poor workers at the restaurant had stayed 45 minutes past closing time waiting for a driver. After I picked it up and drove half-way to the customer, I got a call from Skip the Dishes courier support, telling me the order was cancelled. I guess the customer got tired of waiting.

When an order is cancelled after the courier picks up the food, they still get paid the same amount as they were going to, and they get to keep the food. Unfortunately for me, I don't eat sushi. I'm also allergic to avocado. So, the food is just sitting in my fridge right now, untouched. Not sure what to do with it.

So, why did I risk my life to make $3.50 an hour? Well, someone has to do it. Most of the drivers who don't rely on this income to live probably cancelled their shifts and stayed inside. That's the smart thing to do. But unfortunately, I need the money. Desperately. So, I laced up my boots, fished a warm jacket out of the closet, and strapped in.

I don't mean to brag, but I'm an excellent winter driver. I literally learned to drive in the middle of Calgary winter on snow and ice. And even though I took off my winter tires a few weeks ago (don't want to wear the tread while driving 60 hours a week), my 'summer' tires are Mud & Snow rated with plenty of tread left, so it wasn't all bad. But even the best winter tires wouldn't have helped much, since nearly every street was covered in pure ice.

I only had one close call, which I was able to keep under control. I was merging from an on-ramp and hit a patch of ice while changing lanes. I started to fish-tail wildly back and forth, but since I knew the road behind me was clear of cars, and since my counter-steering skills are excellent (thanks Need for Speed) I got my car under control before anything bad happened.

Other than that, there was just a few turns that I over-shot. No harm, no foul. I mean, I was white knuckle gripping the steering wheel most of the time, but it didn't faze me too much. My girlfriend rode along for some of the time, but she wasn't enjoying the stress of the intense wind and snow (also I think my nonchalance was annoying) so she dipped out after a few hours.

If you think it's absurd that I made so little money while taking such a huge risk, I would agree with you. One would assume that customers would tip more when they make someone risk so much to deliver their food, but in my experience, one would be incorrect. The tips I received weren't anything out of the ordinary.

The highest one I got was a customer that tipped $4 through the app, then gave me an extra $5 bill when I got to his house. If you didn't know, Skip the Dishes handles tips in a strange way. The customer is prompted to tip while ordering their food, meaning they are tipping before the service is completed (even before it begins). Unfortunately it is necessary to specify a tip in advance, since Skip the Dishes does not charge anywhere near enough of a base delivery fee.

Skip drivers are independent contractors. We are not held to any minimum level of service, and we can decide not to do any orders that we don't want to. This can be because of restaurant location, customer location, or because the pay is insufficient. The standard delivery fee is so low, that orders without a tip practically lose money for the courier.

If anyone thinks I should happily do a zero tip order on any day, let alone a day where heavy snow is blowing sideways, you're crazy. I had to turn down 5 orders with no tip. The fee for these orders ranged from $3.75 to $6, for work that would have taken anywhere from half an hour to over an hour. After expenses, these orders usually come out even. For some of them, I would literally have to pay my own money to deliver them. That's not a risk I'm willing to take, especially during a blizzard this intense.

I see a lot of people that have no idea how the courier system works with companies like Skip the Dishes say that drivers are 'entitled' for refusing orders with zero tips. Some idiot went so far as to compare it to a server having to serve customers that they know wouldn't tip.

First of all, as independent contractors we basically have zero rights. We are not covered by Employment Standards like anyone working hourly or salary is. We are on our own. If I was guaranteed a minimum wage, I would happily do zero tip orders. But as a contractor, I have no guarantees, so I have to be picky about what orders I do.

This is not 'entitlement'. Do you know what is, though? Expecting drivers to want to pay out of pocket to deliver your food. That's entitlement. Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Expect your order to be late if you don't want to tip. Sometimes it won't even be delivered at all.

Ultimately this is Skip the Dishes' fault. I try not to blame cheap customers too much when they are being enabled by Skip. There is no reason why delivery fees should be so low. Expecting customers to tip to subsidize your pathetically low fees is a terrible business model. I wish they would get rid of tipping altogether and charge a fair amount.

Think about this in the context of the blizzard. Skip the Dishes did absolutely nothing to guarantee that the drivers dumb enough to risk delivering in that weather would be properly compensated. They didn't raise the minimum fees. They didn't make it clear that customers need to tip to actually receive their food. I don't even think they cared one tiny bit about what their drivers had to do to deliver that food. There were no weather warnings or anything from corporate. In fact, they prompted me to extend one of my shifts because of high order volume (obviously I did).

How are these predatory companies still allowed to operate? How is it fair for them to be able to get labor for this cheap, while every other company needs to follow Employment Standards guidelines and pay a minimum wage? Why is there no talk about regulating this trashy industry?

Why the hell do drivers put up with this garbage? Who knows.