...and Canadians need to know about it.
This is the third and final post I'm going to write about Skip the Dishes. I promise. You can see the first two here and here. There's been a few updates to how the service works since the last two posts I made, and I feel like a new one summarizing the service as a whole is necessary. So, here we go.
Food delivery as a service has existed long before the app-based companies took over. Typically, the only food you could get delivered was pizza, Chinese and KFC, and for good reason. These foods are easy to transport and popular enough to warrant one or multiple dedicated drivers for each location.
But then the gig economy reared its ugly head and transformed food delivery as we knew it. All of a sudden you could get any food you could ever want delivered. It quickly caught on, and began to overtake the traditional delivery system. Now, any time someone wants to order food they open their app of choice to browse instead of just dialing the local Chinese joint.
Is this a good thing? For the customer, yes. For the restaurant? Not really. What about the courier?
The only parties that actually benefit from the 'new food delivery normal' are the customers and the middle-man, E.G. Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, and Doordash. For most restaurants, there's more hassle than benefit to being on a food delivery platform like Skip the Dishes. First off, the cut that these companies take can be quite excessive. I've heard that Skip charges between 15% and 30% of the menu price for delivery orders. 30% is typically the restaurant's margin on most menu items, so they're not actually making any money on these delivery orders after Skip sticks their grubby hands in to take this massive cut.
There's also the fact that since the couriers on these platforms are all independent contractors, they can pick and choose which orders to do. Tips are specified up front with Skip, so the orders without a tip will be passed on by multiple couriers. But, the restaurant still needs to have that food ready to go. The restaurants will have to throw out food that wasn't picked up on time fairly often, which will lose them even more money. Supposedly Skip reimburses the food cost for these orders, but if they treat those reimbursements the same way they do for us couriers, then it won't be helpful at all. More on that later.
You might be wondering why these restaurants would want to be on the Skip platform if they're not making any money. Unfortunately, for a lot of them they just don't have a choice. Imagine you own a restaurant, and every single one of your competitors in your area are on a platform like Skip. If you don't join up, you're going to forfeit a huge and ever-growing market. Even though you don't make money on those orders, it can still potentially bring new customers into your restaurant to order directly from you if they are impressed by your offerings after ordering online.
Other times, a franchised location may be forced to join these platforms by their corporate overlords. Even though all of the risk of loss is on the franchisee, they often have to abide by the rules of the franchisor. Of course, most of these issues only really apply to smaller, mom and pop restaurants. Those are the businesses that would have to cough up 30% of their menu prices to Skip. The big corporate partners like McDonald's can negotiate a much lower rate because they don't need to advertise their businesses through the Skip platform. They also have a ton of locations to bring more bulk profit in.
But that's not the only benefit that these corporate entities are granted. They don't have to follow the same rules that every other small restaurant does. The aforementioned McDonald's is an apt example.
Skip the Dishes tries to streamline the delivery process as much as possible. The main way they do this is by planning for the courier to arrive at the restaurant at about the same time the food has been prepared and is ready to go. But, McDonald's doesn't need to do that at all. Definitely not.
This is a major point of contention with the courier side. From what I've seen, a growing number of couriers have begun to auto-decline any McDonald's orders that are sent their way. Believe me, this is for good reason. I don't think I have had a single experience where I've walked into a McDonald's and had the order I was sent to pick up be ready to go. I've heard that McDonald's management instructs the staff to only start to make the order once the courier has actually arrived at the restaurant.
This is likely to avoid waste for orders that are passed around by multiple couriers. I honestly don't believe that fast food restaurants should even exist on a platform like Skip the Dishes. Fast food is supposed to be cheap. Customers that order McD's don't want to spend a lot to have their cheap food delivered. Most fast food orders have pitifully low tips, which is the main reason they would be passed around.
But fast food is supposed to be made... fast, right? Not always. Certain foods take a long time to make, and big orders will obviously take more time to prepare as well. It's also clear that McD's management does not care about couriers' time, since I have had multiple experiences where I have to wait for the restaurant staff to finish serving every single customer in the restaurant as well as in the drive-thru before they even begin preparing my order.
Honestly, it's a mess. There's nearly no benefit to accepting McDonald's orders, unless they have a ridiculously high tip to account for the minimum 10 minutes you'll be waiting for your food to be ready. But even then, most high tip fast food orders are for a metric fuck-ton of food. A $10 tip would most likely come from the customer tipping 10%, which means they ordered $100 of food. And spending $100 at a fast food joint gets you a lot of food. Too much for a courier to easily transport. It's just not worth the effort.
There's another glaringly obvious reason that fast food restaurants should be banished from apps like Skip the Dishes. Two words; fountain pop. A.K.A., the bane of every food courier's existence. Can anyone explain to me why restaurants are allowed to give out fountain pop for delivery? No? I didn't think so.
Fountain pop is not meant to be delivered in bulk. It's always one speed bump or sharp turn away from ending up splashed all over the inside of your vehicle. My car has 3 cupholders. If a Skip order has any more drinks than that, I have to have the drinks sitting on my floor in the flimsy paper tray that every restaurant uses. I have to drive half the speed I normally would just to make sure they don't spill or tip over, and even then they typically won't survive the trip to the customer as full as when I received them.
Let's get back to McDonald's for a second. Their solution to this problem is to pack the fountain pop into the same bag as the food and seal it up. This is problematic for a few reasons. First, putting hot food in the same bag as the cold drinks will completely defeat the main goal of every courier, which is to keep the food nice and warm until it arrives at the customer's location. Putting this amalgamation of hot food and cold drinks in your thermal courier bags will actually make the food lose heat faster, since you are containing it in a small thermally isolated chamber with freezing cold drinks. The opposing temperatures will equalize at a much faster rate.
Second, think about what happens when you squeeze the sides of a drink with a lid on it. The lid will pop off, spilling the drink everywhere. Now think of how that drink is stuffed into a bag alongside a bunch of food and transported in a moving, bumpy vehicle. Again, it's one speed bump or sharp turn away from disaster. The courier might not even know if the drink spilled inside the sealed bag. They could be handing over a mess of sticky, wet food and squished drink cups.
I can't even tell you which method of fountain drink containment I personally prefer, because they're both terrible. The only logical solution is to force fast food restaurants to offer bottled beverages instead. Remember how I talked about how KFC is one of the companies that has offered food delivery services before the 'gig economy' takeover? They provide fountain pop for customers in store, but for deliveries they only provide bottled pop. That's how it should be done for every restaurant.
Fountain pop is absolutely not the only thing that shouldn't be available for delivery. Let's talk about soup. A piping hot liquid in a poorly sealed... You know what? I think you get the point.
This all just proves my point that Skip the Dishes, along with every other app-based delivery company, just doesn't give a shit about the couriers. Every decision, every change they've made is either for their or their customer's benefit. I understand that both keeping your customers happy and making a lot of profit are the most important things in a capitalistic world. But you also need to not actively screw over the couriers, without whom none of this would be possible. Companies like Skip are bleeding staff faster than possibly any other industry because of the way they're being treated.
They can get away with this because of the revolving door of new hires that are still wet behind the ears and haven't had a late night visit from daddy Skip yet. This also happens to be the reason why it's nearly impossible for gig workers to strike. There's a near infinite army of casual or new couriers ready to pick up any slack from the despondent ones that are begging for change. It's a race to the bottom, and no one is winning.
Earlier I mentioned couriers getting reimbursed for time spent waiting in restaurants for food. It's time to explain. Skip will automatically reimburse couriers $0.25 per minute that they have to wait after the first 7 minutes. Well, in an ideal world it would be automatic. But, to qualify for the auto reimbursements as a courier you have to very carefully follow a set of specific, yet completely hidden instructions.
In the courier app, you swipe a button to notify Skip and the restaurant that you have arrived at the restaurant to pick up your customer's order. But, if your GPS location is too far from the restaurant when you swipe, it is considered a 'bad swipe' and you are ineligible for a reimbursement. You seem to have to be quite close to the restaurant for it to register as a 'good swipe'. If your phone has an unstable GPS connection, you're S.O.L. The button literally says 'Parked at restaurant' on it, but if you have to park a ways away from the restaurant for whatever reason and you swipe from the car, you're ineligible for a reimbursement.
After 5 minutes of waiting, the app will pop up with a button that looks like this. You have to hit that button as soon as it shows up, or you're ineligible for a reimbursement. Finally, you have to swipe another button to confirm that you've picked up the order as soon as you receive it, before leaving the restaurant. If you don't... you guessed it, you're ineligible for a reimbursement.
If you're not automatically reimbursed for long wait times, you have to deal with Skip's Courier Support team. It will often take at least an hour of your time replying back and forth through email or waiting on hold if you call. Our time isn't worthless, it's worth at least minimum wage. I could spend an hour of my time to get less than $5 dollars in compensation, or just forget about it and give up. I always choose the latter, it's less frustrating overall. But this is exactly what Skip wants to happen.
Here's the kicker, the restaurant pays for this reimbursement, because it's technically their fault that the food is late. But for them, the penalty is always automatic, whether or not the courier swiped while close enough to the restaurant or if they hit the 'waiting for an order' button fast enough. Us couriers have to jump through so many hoops to get that money, but it's taken from the restaurant no matter what. If the courier doesn't pursue the reimbursement, Skip keeps it. This might even be how they make the bulk of their profit. It's fishy as hell.
Ever since Skip the Dishes launched the major update that changed the fundamental operation of the courier app to make it easy for drivers to reject orders, they have been testing out new methods to force drivers to accept low-paying orders. Today, we finally reached a tipping point. Skip the Dishes has just announced that they will now stop scheduling shifts for couriers who have too low of an order acceptance rate. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the most recent update that provides a top-up to low paying orders if the courier maintains an order acceptance rate of at least 80%.
Presumably, couriers with an acceptance rate below 80% won't have priority for shifts. I just so happen to be one of those couriers. I utilize an order acceptance method commonly referred to as 'cherry-picking', where I pass on most low or average paying orders to seek out the ones with excessively high tips. In fact, I cherry-pick so hard that my order acceptance rate is probably around 10%. Because of that I went from having 8+ shifts (or about 30 hours) scheduled per week, to zero.
This is my main and only source of income, and now it's more or less gone. Second class (or third-class, whatever range I fall into) couriers can still pick up open shifts, which tend to be the ones that other couriers cancel, but these shifts are exceedingly rare and require constant monitoring of the app to find even a single one. I'm now considered to be as pathetic and lowly as the family pet, constantly circling the dinner table to pounce on the food scraps that might happen to fall out of the gaping maws of my masters. It's a futile endeavor.
You might wonder why I can't just maintain a high order acceptance for the shifts that I am able to scrounge up. I mean, I wouldn't do it on principle alone. I do not negotiate with terrorists. But even if I wanted to, it's just not feasible in the area that I deliver in.
South Calgary is a suburban wasteland. Small clusters of restaurants are spread out amongst a massive, sprawling expanse of residential hell. I tracked a few hundred order offers to find out the average stats for orders in my zone, and the average distance falls just under 10km. Heavily populated urban centres such as Toronto or Vancouver will have a much lower average distance, which makes most orders palatable. It can actually be a viable strategy to accept 80% of orders in those markets. But not in mine, or others similar to mine.
To accept 4 out of 5 orders in my zone I would have to traverse the entirety of South Calgary for every shift. Most orders I pass on are strictly due to the location of the restaurant or customer. If I'm sitting by my home near the end of a shift, I won't accept an order that will take me 15 km away. For slow shifts, I won't take orders on the other side of the city since I don't want to get stuck with a long, uncompensated drive home when the orders dry up.
Skip also introduced a ridiculous feature called Open Roads, which will 'allow' (read; force) couriers to get sent orders outside of their assigned zone. I live near one of the edges of my zone, so when I'm near home (which is where I start most of my shifts) I will typically get sent orders that would send me way outside of where I actually want to work. Those orders are an auto-decline for me. Obviously there is no way to opt out of this 'feature', why would there be?
Back to the 'top-up' feature for a bit. It's completely useless for suburban couriers. It will only benefit those in densely populated areas. In my city, orders will be 'topped-up' to a $7 minimum if your acceptance rate is... acceptable. But most of the orders where this would come into effect are going to be useless whether they pay $5 or are topped-up to $7. My suggestion is to change the top-up feature to amend orders to a set $/KM amount, such as the commonly lauded $1/KM ratio that a lot of couriers strive for. This would make those 10KM+ orders pay out a much better rate than if they were topped up to $7.
But Skip seems to ignore the most sensical metric that us couriers use to determine an order offer's value. They instead calculate the transit pay of an order based on time, not distance. But distance is the only metric by which order values should be generated. It's the only measurement that makes sense when a courier has to cover all of their own vehicle expenses. Every KM you drive costs a set amount of money, an amount which barely differs depending on the speed you are traveling at. If Skip factored in current traffic for their transit pay algorithm it might make sense, but they seemingly don't. Rush hour or heavy traffic orders will take much longer than anticipated and accounted for.
The announcement of the order top-up and new shift scheduling features has couriers fired up more than I've ever seen. It's becoming more and more clear to the majority of us just how much Skip values our work (read; not at all). Their actions have been extremely sketchy over the last few months. They started to hide the breakdown between transit pay and the tip for order offers, so you don't know how much you're being tipped until after you complete the order. This seems to be a step towards subsidizing the transit pay with high tips, much like DoorDash did until a nationwide backlash forced them to change.
So what can this impassioned population of couriers do to inspire change? Many have been talking about striking, or pursuing a class action lawsuit against Skip the Dishes. This fundamental change to the scheduling system more or less forces couriers to accept orders they wouldn't normally take on so that they can actually have shifts scheduled. If you didn't know, forcing an independent contractor to accept any work you send them makes them an employee, who would be entitled to a minimum wage, expense reimbursements, and other benefits.
But wait, our Courier Agreement forbids us from joining a class action lawsuit, and forces us to take on the delivery giant all by our lonesome. This clause likely wouldn't hold up if challenged in court, but most couriers are too poor or too unmotivated to make that challenge.
As I mentioned previously, striking is most likely fruitless since there is an ever expanding catalogue of new or casual couriers to step up in place of the mutineers. It just seems... hopeless.
My recommendation? Bring attention to these issues. Not just in our circle of couriers, we need to step out and inform the public of what's happening. Name and shame. Cancel culture sucks, but we can and should use it to our advantage. Look what happened with DoorDash; widespread media attention to their tip-stealing ways caused them to change their pay structure after only a few days. Albeit, that issue affected customers as well, but it is still possible to garner sympathy for the abuse we are suffering at the hands of a corporation worth billions.
Godspeed, my crestfallen brethren. Godspeed.