FARMINGTON – As the pandemic drones on, and restaurants are struggling to maintain their customer base, more restaurants are turning to food delivery services such as DoorDash and GrubHub to supplement their customer reach. But how safe are these third-party food delivery services during a time when illness transmission is still so high?
Since the pandemic started until the end of 2020, more than 110,000 restaurants closed due to COVID-19, according to a study published by the National Restaurant Association. Even if only three people depend on income from each restaurant, that would mean 330,000 people lost their jobs or business – that’s more than seven times the population of Farmington. That number doesn’t include those laid off from restaurants that downsized because of the pandemic.
The study said 81 percent of restaurant operators reported their staffing level is lower than it would normally be if COVID-19 weren’t a factor. In fact, the report said “45 percent of operators are currently more than 20 percent below normal staffing levels.”
However, food delivery service companies like GrubHub and DoorDash have seen an increase in delivery drivers. According to DoorDash spokeswoman Campbell Matthews, since the first stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020 to September, 1.9 million new Dashers joined.
According to DoorDash, the company’s relief programs saved restaurants more than $120 million since March 2020 with 65 percent of restaurants saying they were able to increase their profits using DoorDash.
GrubHub spokeswoman Jenna De Marco .said GrubHub sent more than 600,000 orders to restaurants a day and those restaurants collectively received nearly $9 billion in sales, just from orders on GrubHub in the last year.
DoorDash, like GrubHub and UberEats, is a food delivery service that operates through an app. Customers can log into the app, look to see if their favorite restaurant is listed as a supported location, order, customize, pay, tip and track the order all through the app.
When an order is placed, a restaurant gets a notification and begins to make the order. Then a driver is assigned to your order and they pick up the food when it is ready. When the driver gets to the drop off point, they either hand off the food, or since the start of the pandemic, leave the food at the door for “contactless delivery,” as is the default setting in both the DoorDash and GrubHub apps.
Some restaurants like Chipotle, WingStop and Sonic implement different packaging of food and drinks being picked up or delivered. WingStop and Sonic both cover the strawhole with a sticker of some sort, while Chipotle and WingStop seal their food bags to ensure there is no tampering.
Spokesman for Chipotle, Tyler Benson said “in March of 2020, we introduced a tamper-evident packaging seal for pick-up and delivery orders.”
According to Jim Walton with the New Mexico Department of Health, the biggest concern with COVID-19 transmission isn’t the food itself, but the interaction between delivery drivers and customers.
“Dropping off food at the front door, ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door and then stepping away is the safest way to have food delivered,” Walton said.
That isn’t the only new update that delivery services are doing to promote health and safety among drivers and customers. Both GrubHub and DoorDash for example encourage their drivers to wear masks and even offer PPE such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer for the drivers.
To directly protect their drivers both DoorDash and GrubHub offer two weeks of “earnings replacement” or “support pay” to drivers who lost income due to having COVID. DoorDash also provides access to subsidized telehealth appointments.
Those incentives can be especially appealing to those in the Black or Latino communities who are generally hit harder by COVID than other communities.
The new Dashers who joined the platform with the existing Dashers earned more than $3.5 billion during the first 6½half months of the pandemic, according to Matthews. Approximately 60 percent of that, or $2.1 billion, was earned by Dashers who live in ZIP codes with above-average Black or Latino representation. According to DoorDash more than a third of total earnings went to Dashers from low-income communities.
For customers receiving orders, Walton suggests that they still wear a mask, social distance, and consider what has been touched.
“When handling delivered items, assume that these have all been touched and a possibility of exposure exists,” he said. “After handling these items, wash your hands.”
While not an official recommendation by the health department, Walton said his family sets out a TV tray when getting a food delivery to keep it off the ground. If they add a tip, the Waltons use a rock to make sure it won’t blow away.