Who Are the People Who Deliver New York’s Food?

As of now, delivery and takeout are the New York City restaurant industry. Grub Street talked to delivery workers around the city to see what the mood is like among customers and inside the restaurants with which they work — and what it’s actually like to work in the midst of this crisis.

Photo: Scott Heins

Darren, Brooklyn

What is work like right now?
I’m doing UberEats. I’ve been doing that for about three years now. Ever since this virus has been all over the news, I’ve been making less money. Sure, people are staying inside their houses, but I usually deliver to a lot of people who are at work, at clubs, in school.

Ever since de Blasio announced that restaurants are limited to deliveries the business has been picking up super quickly. It just spiked.

What’s the tone like at the restaurants where you pick up deliveries? Are people nervous about working?
I was actually shocked when I saw they closed down the restaurant portion and kept the kitchens open. Managers told me that’s how they’re going to keep busy. Some restaurants are doing okay, but others are totally closed down.

There was this one Italian restaurant that said it’s busy; it’s getting nonstop orders. But at the same time I was making a lot less overall last weekend.

Are you worried about the future?
We have the election coming up soon. It’s tough. We’re in a lot of debt. The markets are going dramatically down. So all right, what if I do make a certain amount of money but the market crashes? That could be devastating.

Photo: Scott Heins

Joseph, the Bronx

What was work like this weekend?
Basically it’s been this: With the coronavirus, everyone has been overstocked with food, all this panic in shopping. Right now it’s been slow with deliveries so far, but I bet it will pick up. I’ve been talking with other guys. It is what it is. Right now we just want to continue to make more money.

Do you work for a restaurant or an app? 
I stick with Postmates because I also have a regular job. I do pest control. But right now everything is closed. Most of the restaurants are closed, so it’s two weeks without that money. I’m subsidizing with delivery. I’m from Puerto Rico originally. I’ve been working delivery for about six months.

For the foreseeable future, delivery is your only income. How do you feel about that?
I don’t mind it. It’s just like any kind of work. You gotta hustle. You’ve got to make your money. The longer you stay out, the more money you make. It’s been a slow couple of days, but I still make my $50 or $60 a day. I just do it to get by, one day at a time.

What’s the vibe like inside the restaurants where you pick up food?
They’re depressed! It sucks right now. They’ve gotta pay their bills. Owners are stressed; managers are stressed. A lot of people that work there are upset; it’s their only means of survival.

What are your customers like? Are they nervous when you drop off food?
No. they’re fine. They’re just hanging out at home playing PlayStation.

What do you think will happen for the future?
It’s going to pick up because people are going to get stressed and not want to eat what they have at home.

Photo: Scott Heins

Adrian, the Bronx

What’s work been like?
I work for Frankie’s in Manhattan. Business has been slow, not too much delivery. For a Monday, this is slow.

What do you think will happen?
With this virus? I just don’t know. There are no people inside; orders are slow.

Photo: Scott Heins

Alex, Manhattan

What’s the vibe in the city?
It hasn’t been this busy for us since Christmas, since December. I haven’t done this many morning deliveries in a while. My first order was to 102nd Street. I haven’t gone up there since November. January, February, and the first part of March was slow. But now …

What are people ordering?
Typical stuff, you know. Sandwich, fries, soup. The orders aren’t too big.

What’s it like when you drop off the food? Are people nice, do they keep their distance?
They’re more disconnected than usual. There’s less eye contact, or they leave a note to leave the food at the door.

Have they been tipping?
Not any better than usual. If anything, it’s a little bit less. I don’t know the thinking behind it.

Photo: Scott Heins

Zenon, Brooklyn

Is delivery your main job?
Here, and another job in Brooklyn. But that restaurant closed. This is my only work.

Are you worried?
I guess I’ll just work here now. I don’t know. Maybe it will change next week.

Do you have other friends who work in restaurants?
Yeah, and they have no work. They’re scared. They pay bills, they pay rent, but people don’t have jobs. I know people who used to have 45 hours, but now they only have 20. This is a problem.

How are the people when you drop things off?
They’re nice. They say, “Thank you for your work.” Two or three people have said they’re thankful I’m working.

Photo: Scott Heins

Kharry, Jersey City

Have customers been different when you drop off deliveries?
They don’t want you to come close. Some people won’t open the door. They tell me to leave the food on the floor.

How does that make you feel?
It’s really dangerous for us, but people are behaving irrationally. They’re a lot more crazy.

How has business been?
Slow. It’s been very slow.

Do you hope business picks up?
I just hope things improve. If they go badly, it’ll be bad for all of us. I want things to just go back to normal. Delivery is my only job. I work six days a week.

Photo: Scott Heins

Ulrich, Manhattan

What’s today been like?
It’s very slow, very slow. They shut everything down. I thought it would be busier for deliveries, but it’s not. I think everybody is scared. I’m scared, but I don’t have a choice. I need to work, for sure. It’s crazy, this thing is crazy. I have to work, I work for Grubhub. I work every day, from Monday to Sunday. Right now, I don’t have a choice. I can’t take a day off.

Photo: Scott Heins

Amin, Manhattan

What’s the day been like?
Friday was busy. Today was slow. A lot of people are scared about the coronavirus. Everyone’s being careful.

Are you worried?
A little bit.

Photo: Scott Heins

The Bleecker Boyz, often work around NYU and Greenwich Village

What’s had the biggest impact? Has it been busy?
Baha: Students left and went home. We had a lot of student work.

Amir: Offices are closed, too. That’s a lot of work for us. And half the restaurants are closed, so it’s less work for us.

U.: It’s like the big chains that can afford to stay open on just takeout. Fast-food places, they can stomach the drop. Those orders are often the lowest tips. And then bigger, more expensive restaurants can make a lot of money, they can survive. But the smaller places in the middle are screwed. A mom-and-pop pizza shop? You’re screwed.

Jamal: The smaller restaurants will suffer a lot, and that’s going to be the hardest thing to watch because they’re small businesses that couldn’t control this at all. America has to do something.

Amir: It’s been like two-thirds of what we usually make. We’ve lost 30 percent of our regular daily work.

U.: The restaurants have been giving out hand sanitizer and gloves. They’re helping a lot.

Jamal: For some of us out here, we work full-time. But other people who have lost work are now doing more deliveries. It’s more competition — they’re jumping on our tracks. They’ve got to make money. You bust your behind to make these orders, and you run into people doing it for the first time.

What’s the vibe with customers when you drop off food now?
Jamal: Most of my customers tell me, “Leave it with the doorman, leave it at the door, or put it on the elevator and I’ll call it up.”

U.: A lot of the apps are getting ahead of this. We have an option for no-contact delivery. So I text a customer and I say, “I’m delivering. Stay inside. I’ll put the food by your door.” Some people don’t obey it and I have to demand it. I serve a lot of people. I’m young and healthy. I do 30 or 40 miles a day, so my lungs are strong. But a lot of people might not be as strong as us, so we have to stay clean, so we don’t pass it around.

Jamal: That’s why we try not to go upstairs. It’s not to be rude — it’s safer for all of us. Let’s say, not knowing it, one of us carries it. If we go into a building with a lot of elderly, we’d be walking down their hallway carrying it.

What would you tell people ordering delivery right now, then?
Jamal: Stay inside. We’ll call you and let you know the food is there. It’s easier and safer.

What would you say to them about tips?
U.: It could be a long haul. I don’t want people to overtip now, and then be stressed later.

Are you personally nervous?
Jamal: Hell no. We’re out here now, ain’t we? None of us are afraid. Had we been scared, we wouldn’t do this job.

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Who Are the People Who Deliver New York’s Food?