A few months back, a food delivery boy suddenly became an online sensation, but for all the wrong reasons. Everyone started talking about him or sharing his video and he became a hugely debatable topic on social media platforms. He was seen clandestinely opening food packets meant for customers and eating a little from each. Of course, it was basically wrong on his part as he was cheating on the customers as well as the food outlet he was working for. His misdeed was caught on one of the cameras installed in the area and was then posted on social media. Subsequently, it created major uproar and also initiated a debate on how safe is our delivered food. The company took strict action against the violator.

Then appeared another story that highlighted the working conditions of the delivery boys and the difficulties they face while delivering anything. There was another story, which has also been widely circulated on social media. The write-up was about a delivery boy, who was in such a hurry that he created chaos on the road. When asked the reason for his haste he cited that he had to deliver the food fast otherwise he would miss his target. Both the incidents highlight the plight of the delivery boys ~ how they have to work against all odds, be it rain, extreme heat or cold, and avoid traffic to deliver the food fast and fresh.

Their numbers have grown rapidly ever since multinational companies established themselves in India. It certainly is easy and convenient for anyone sitting comfortably and with a few clicks on the phone or computer to order for the food to be delivered at home or office. A party in the office? No problem! Dial some number and food is in the office cafeteria. Thanks to growing technology, almost everything is brought to the doorstep. But it is also true that huge manpower is required for everything ~ even a computer needs a person to operate it. The same is true for the delivery industry. These companies, such as Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda and Domino’s in the food and beverages segment and Amazon and Flipkart in apparels, have brought employment opportunity, mainly in the delivery service, which has shot up very fast. But the moot question is: Has their advent in the Indian market really improved their lifestyle or made them into working robots?

Delivery industry

Since India is the fastest growing economy, several big multinational delivery companies are eyeing the Indian market. Some of them have already established themselves while some are in the process. For instance, in the food segment, there are many companies like Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and UberEats. Then there are many standalone restaurants, like Dominos and McDonald, and dhabas, which have their own delivery boys. There are a number of online shopping portals like Amazon and Flipkart, to name a few. These companies hire a good number of people, which shows the industry is flourishing. A recent study by business consultancy firm Market Research Future, titled “Digital Platforms Reign in the Food Ordering Market” reads the online food ordering market in India is likely to grow at 16 per cent annually and will touch 17.02 billion dollars by 2023.

The study also highlighted the reason people are opting for home delivery of food. Many cited that it was due to the promotional offers and discounts, while many accede that it was hasslefree and time-saving. A few of them also mentioned that one could have a wide variety of cuisines on a single click. “Why do we have to step out when food can reach our home with a click. It is cheaper, thanks to the promotional offers by these companies, faster as food is mostly delivered within an hour. It also saves our transport expense for reaching any eatery. All in all, online food delivery is a good option,” said Sharma, who works at an MNC. The report also says online food delivery has several benefits like food delivered at the doorstep of the consumer, numerous payment options, attractive discounts, cash back offers and rewards. In fact, the growing trend of people shifting to online delivery not only benefits the customers but also the restaurant owners as it reduces the operational cost. Many reputed restaurants and cafes agreed that it has drastically decreased the operational overheads and it is quite beneficial for them. However, there are many who are critical about this shift because it has increased their maintenance cost. “We have rented a large space to house maximum guests in our restaurant. And we were very happy. Now the trend has changed and people are more into delivery, there is no use of this space and its inflating rent is a burden. Therefore, I am planning to shift soon to a smaller space,” said a restaurant owner in Shalimar Bagh.

How do they work?

Growing numbers of online players have enabled food delivery companies to optimise their fleet, thereby reducing delivery time. Here starts the problem! In a conversation with several delivery boys and organisations, it emerged that they have various parameters to pay delivery personnel. Along with their salary, their payments depend on the number of deliveries completed and the distance they cover. In Swiggy, there are three types of incentives ~ weekday, weekend and monthly. They also get incentives when they work beyond 11 p.m. and on rainy days. But, to get this benefit, one has to put in certain hours of work, mainly during peak hours. This helps them earn between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000. To earn more they stretch working hours and delivery numbers. At times, they don’t have time to take a break. Perhaps the food stealing incident was the result of such stretched working hours.

“We have hoards of problems like finding locations, odd weather and chaos and confusion at the respective restaurant,” informed Amit, from Zomato. “We get paid for the trips and the tips that some customers pay us. But there is this new system in Zomato that helps the delivery person get the tips officially but it’s up to the customer to add the tip for the delivery person. Most of the time people don’t add the tip on the site and neither do they give unofficially.”

Another delivery boy from Dominos, who is a graduate, informs that his major problem is delivering in harsh weather within half an hour. He has requested his organisation to stop delivery in such a situation. “We are paid extremely low, they should take care of it,” he informed. Then there are a lot of problems with fussy customers. Vicky (changed name) from Zomato said, “I have to deliver at the 7th or 12th-floor using stairs in a building without lifts. When we ask customers to come down part of the way, they say ‘Neeche aana hi hota to restaurant hi chale jaate, zomato se kyu book karte? Aapko aana hai to aayein, varna aapki complaint kar rahe hai (If we had to come downstairs, we would have gone to a restaurant, why would we have ordered via zomato? If you want to, come, otherwise we’re filing a complaint)’. Customers don’t even offer water.”

Improved conditions

The delivery organisations say they have taken various initiatives to improve the delivery system and conditions of the delivery boys. For instance, Zomato informed, “While battling this heat, we encourage them to opt for flexible work hours and take regular breaks. We have also appealed to our clients, using our app and social media channels, to offer the boys a glass of water and restaurants to make sure that they can wait in the shade. Our users have responded extremely well to our request and have also increased tips to the partners.” “We, on our part, ensure that the monthly earnings of our partners are always above market averages and offer life and health insurance benefits above market standards. We have also designed programmes like Zomato Prime and Festive Dhamaka in order to reward them for their hard work. We understand this is tough and are constantly talking to our delivery partners to see how we can do more.”

It is not that only the delivery boys who have problems. Customers often complain about their irresponsible behaviour and rudeness. One should not forget the delivery boy, who opened the food pack and ate from it. However, online delivery organisations claimed to have improved their packaging system so that it can’t be opened. “This is one of the incidents. There are a number of such problems. Once I ordered food ~ a platter with a complimentary side of snack. He brought incomplete orders,” said Shweta, a college student. “At times, during online orders, when delivery got cancelled, it takes time to get refund amount.”