DoorDash for Fast Cash: Students Turn to Delivery Service for Extra Funds Due to COVID-19

Written by on April 24, 2021

Photo caption: DoorDash signs light up red from businesses all over the country, as workers and restaurants attempt to stay afloat as COVID-19 sweeps the nation.

Photo credit: Erik McClean

Saraina Wise pulls into the snow-covered driveway, her windshield wipers slamming the sides of her window. She peers into the dark night, clutching the brown paper bag of food as she opens her car door. Trudging through the foot-deep snow, she blinks away the fragile but frequent snowflakes piling on her hair and stinging her hands and face with cold. Wearing her mask, she reaches the house at the end of the driveway, knocks on the door as the owner opens the door.

“Hi! Here is your DoorDash order!”

“Oh, I didn’t order anything.”

Saraina shudders and pauses. She shows the order information to the owner.

“Is this your address?”

 

“No, that’s actually the house next door.”

She sighs and begins the journey back to her sedan, the trusty steed that carries her from home to home, carrying order to order. The snow has piled up so much in such a few minutes that she has to wipe it fresh from her windshield. She gets in her car, starts her engine and begins backing out when her car hits a snowbank. She revs the engine as her tires whir and slip against the Ohio terrain. Her eyes begin to tear as she realizes that she is stuck in the snow. Ohio winters are not for the faint of heart, but Saraina relies on this delivering dinner order to make a living. If she fails, her DoorDash rating could plummet. 

Saraina is one of many college students that turned to DoorDash to supplement their income as the COVID-19 pandemic took a hold of the nation’s economy and caused thousands of people to lose their jobs. According to The Century Foundation, last April, one in four young people between the ages of 20 and 24 were unemployed, even as some became part of the essential workforce. However, due to the closure of restaurants and eateries in-person dining options, residents and consumers turned to delivery services to support local businesses and enjoy favorite foods. Companies like DoorDash, UberEats and Grubhub are just a few examples of delivery services that experienced an influx in orders and business. Many college students, now out of work because of the pandemic, turned to these ulterior sources of income to supplement the lack of steady financial earnings. 

The majority of modern food delivery services are pioneered by young college-aged students who lost their job due to COVID-19. Ryan Leflar, a senior theater production major, lost his serving job due to the restaurant he worked for, Treno in downtown Kent, Ohio, closing in the spring of last year. Ryan had worked for DoorDash part-time before he was a waiter, but his restaurant closer forced him to rely on “Dashing” as a full-time job. 

“I actually started DoorDashing, like a month before the pandemic hit literally just as a way to make extra money. And then because of the pandemic, I lost my job,” Leflar says. “I kind of became a DoorDasher just by chance, because I wanted to make extra money. The restaurant that I was working out was kind of going downhill and not doing well, and eventually closed because of COVID. It definitely helped during COVID. It’s so hard to get a job right now. There were like a couple of months where I didn’t have a job. I was paying all of my bills with DoorDash.”

Many college graduates have also been forced to seek out work through delivery services like DoorDash to supplement their income or to compensate for the lack of jobs and opportunities that usually come with graduating from college. Chris Sommer, a recent Kent State graduate with a major in fashion merchandising. Since May, Chris has been unable to secure a job in his field and has relied on DoorDash to make extra money on the side. 

“After going to one of the top fashion programs in the country, it is hard for me to rely on a DoorDashing job when I know I should be working in Fashion but during these tough times, beggars can’t be choosers,” Sommer says. “Most of my friends are in the same boat but I need to make money so I will take anything I can get.”

DoorDash Inc. is based in San Francisco and is the largest food delivery company in the United States. DoorDashers only make about two or three dollars an hour, and they heavily rely on tips. Dashers can choose to deliver up to a certain radius around where they live, but it is often based on the radius of the restaurant, so they could potentially drive much farther from their homes than initially planned. This irregularity can leave Dashers feeling unsafe in environments they are unfamiliar with. 

“I ended up 15 minutes away from the restaurant I picked up from. No clue where I was, in the  middle of nowhere. I called my boyfriend and asked him, ‘Will you just talk to me because this house doesn’t have any porch lights on. It’s 11 p.m at night and I don’t know where I’m at. I’m just a little scared,’” Leflar says. “My boyfriend bought me a pepper spray to keep in my car after that. But it’s weird because they’ll send you anywhere that’s on the map. So, if you go at night, you definitely have to be a little cautious because they don’t care. You’re just a number.”

The drawbacks to DoorDash not only jeopardize the Dasher’s safety while delivering, but it can also affect the ability of college students to pay their taxes and understand how to manage their funds for gas and other expenses.

“There’s a lot of weirdness about the taxes. I haven’t had to do taxes yet, as a Dasher, and you have to pay your own taxes and keep track of your mileage for deductions. And basically, just do your taxes as a self-employed person. So that’s rough, especially for college kids who maybe don’t know that much and can’t afford to hire somebody who does,” Saraina Wise, a senior political science major, says. “It can put some wear and tear on your car. I’ve definitely put a good number of miles. I want to say like, since starting DoorDash, but I’ve put 8000 miles on my car. If I’m dashing for three, four hours I’m definitely at least driving 100 miles. So it’s a lot.”

Saraina was also struggled with DoorDash this past winter because of the snow and winter weather. After having her car stuck in a driveway during a snowstorm, she had to get her car towed out and the late delivery resulted in her DoorDash rate plummeting. The individual DoorDasher ratings affect bonuses and what orders people can take, much like it would in Uber or at a hair salon. Aspects like order lateness, accuracy and deliciousness can affect the rating for a Dasher and can impact their overall career working for DoorDash.

DoorDashers also experience a large number of benefits to Dashing. Tips are usually high and frequent and there is a lower risk of human-to-human contact that can result in the spreading of the virus, which helps protect drivers and customers alike.

“The benefits are definitely being able to make your own schedule. It’s so nice. Because there have been days where I’m not mentally in a good place. I can’t do work right now. I just don’t go DoorDashing and I don’t get punished for the work really,” Leflar says. 

The pandemic limited the amount of restaurant tier options for people to dine, which often lead to higher tips that lead to a larger income for drivers. Many college students that use DoorDash dish out a chunk of change to help out their fellow man, and many residents increased their tipping at the start of the pandemic. While tip revenue starts to decline for drivers, many still receive large tips from orders they deliver every day.

“It’s really interesting, because I feel like at the start of the pandemic, like March, April, May, again, people were tipping so well, and I was making really good money on tips,” Leflar says. “I’ve noticed more recently in the December January area there is a large number of people that just aren’t tipping. Either aren’t tipping or tipping like $1. I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that we don’t get paid. We’re literally doing it for the tip, basically.”

DoorDash has been a necessary and frequent form of income for those who were unemployed during the pandemic. Even as restaurants and businesses open up, DoorDash has remained a staple for businesses and people alike to stay afloat. The neon red sign plastered on businesses that read “DoorDash accepted here!” or “Try out DoorDash!” will leave a mark on how people can earn a living for years to come.

 


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