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A look at food delivery one year into the COVID-19 pandemic

Industry sees increase in jobs, sales and enforces safety
DoorDash provides drivers with a hot/cold bag, hand sanitizer and a multi-layered face mask.

FARMINGTON – As the COVID-19 pandemic drones on, and restaurants struggle 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?

Between the beginning of the pandemic and the end of 2020, more than 110,000 restaurants closed because of COVID-19, according to a study published by the National Restaurant Association. Hypothetically, even if only three people depended on income from each restaurant, that would mean 330,000 people lost their jobs or business – 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% 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% of operators are currently more than 20% below normal staffing levels.”

However, food delivery service companies like GrubHub and DoorDash have seen an increase in delivery drivers. DoorDash spokeswoman Campbell Matthews said more than 1.9 million new Dashers joined between March and September 2020.

According to DoorDash, the company’s relief programs saved restaurants more than $120 million since March 2020 with 65% 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 per day and those restaurants collectively received nearly $9 billion in sales from orders on GrubHub over the last year.

DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEats are all app-based food delivery services. Customers log into one of the apps, see if their favorite restaurant is listed as a supported location, order and track the order through the app.

When an order is placed, the restaurant gets a notification and begins to make the order. A driver is assigned to the order and picks up the food when it is ready. When the driver gets to the drop-off point, they hand off the food – or leave it at the door for “contactless delivery,” as is the default setting on the DoorDash and GrubHub apps.

Some restaurants, including 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, while Chipotle and WingStop seal food bags to prevent tampering.

New Mexico Department of Health communications specialist Jim Walton said 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. GrubHub and DoorDash encourage their drivers to wear masks and provide PPE such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to drivers.

DoorDash and GrubHub offer two weeks of earnings replacement or support pay to drivers who lose income as a result of a COVID-19 infection. DoorDash also provides access to subsidized telehealth appointments.

Dashers earned more than $3.5 billion during the first 6½ months of the pandemic, Matthews said. About 60% 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.

Walton suggests customers receiving orders 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 doesn’t blow away.

mmitchell@durangoherald.com

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