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Deliveroo is a food delivery service that took Amsterdam by storm. This is an unbridled and in-depth look at my experience as as a Deliveroo rider in Amsterdam.

Deliveroo was founded in 2013 in the UK by Will Shu and Greg Orlowski. Based in London, it operates in over two hundred cities across Europe and in Australia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong. They expanded to The Netherlands in 2015 with Amsterdam being the first city of operation in the country.

The Dutch company Thuisbezorgd was the only major food delivery service available at the time. Competitor Foodora broke onto the scene first in the summer of 2015. A few months later, Deliveroo entered the fray and UberEATS the following year.

How does Deliveroo work?

The way Deliveroo operates is pretty straightforward. An order is placed online by the customer and then prepared by the restaurant. The courier would pick up the order and deliver it on bike within 15 minutes. While the premise is simple, a lot has changed for the riders since its inception.

Why Deliveroo matters

As a former employee and now a self-employed contract courier for Deliveroo, I have unique insights on the job. At the time of this writing, I’ve been quietly riding under the radar for three years. This likely makes me the longest consistently employed contract courier for the company in The Netherlands. As such, I’ve been able to witness the metamorphosis from being a paid employee to the controversial freelance model.

There is no job that comes to mind that has changed so much in such short time while the overall premise remained the same.

This transition sheds light on what the gig economy really means to those who work within it and how such a template can affect future industries.

Joining the team

I joined the team in April of 2016 in the midst of a massive hiring spree. After doing a test run with a lead driver, I was officially signed on as an employee on a 6 month contract that was renewable after its term. I was outfitted with a t-shirt, cycling jersey, jacket, rain pants, powerbank charger along with a thermal bag and a delivery box. It was mandatory for all couriers to wear the branded clothing and to wear the box and this was enforced by the lead riders.

New hires were provided a link to install the Deliveroo App onto their smartphones and given access to the online scheduling system. There were various shifts throughout the day, from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and typically around 3 hours in length. Riders were free to choose how many shifts they wanted as well as which zone to work in. There were tweaks made over time which introduced requirements such as having to apply to at least one evening shift per week, later changed to working at least one evening shift on the weekend to meet the demands during busy hours.

If someone had to give up a shift, they would put it for a swap otherwise they were required to work. In the case of illness, they had to call in the morning prior to the scheduled shift. I found there was always someone who would snatch up a swap, even with relatively short notice.

The pay was roughly €9 per hour along with bonuses and tips. During peak times, particularly in the early evening, riders could average between two to three orders per hour. With a little luck, four orders was attainable. Overall the gig was stress-free with the only real aggravation came from getting a flat tire. It was a perfect way to supplement my income while getting a little exercise, fresh air and doing something I love, simply riding a bike.

The Golden Age of Deliveroo

For the next two years, many would refer to this as the golden age of Deliveroo. Riders numbered in the hundreds in Amsterdam and the business of food delivery service spread like a California wildfire. It was next to impossible to bike anywhere in city and not see someone clad in black and teal with a delivery box.

Even though we worked independently, it was also a sociable gig as clusters of riders could be seen at restaurants or socializing in various spots around the city while waiting for orders.

Deliveroo illustration of riders socializing

The sociable gig

There was a lot of camaraderie among riders. It was common practice to make a gesture of acknowledgment with the peace sign when passing a fellow rider on the street.

The original Deliveroo logo was based on a caricature of a Kangaroo.  It was updated with a modern minimalist look of just the head of a kangaroo. But it also resembled the “peace” hand sign. Whether this was intentional or not, Deliveroo created a brilliant logo by hitting the mark on several levels.

Original Deliveroo Logo

Original Deliveroo logo

Revised Deliveroo logo

Revised logo

There was a clear effort to promote solidarity with social events, contests and the introduction of performance rankings based on time factors and deliveries. And riders loved it.

If there were issues, Deliveroo did their best to address questions and concerns by having an open door policy. There were some kinks to work out along the way and new house rules were introduced to adhere to company standards such as (“Don’t go into a coffee shop to buy cannabis while wearing your Deliveroo jacket.”) Otherwise it ultimately remained a fun job and riders were proud to work for Deliveroo.

Extracurricular Activities

There are also some small perks of a personal nature such as integrating some of my hobbies. On shifts where I suspected I would get few orders, I brought my camera along hidden underneath my jacket. Many of the shots on my blog were captured while working with Deliveroo. During warmer months, I would sit in the park writing a blog post or working on other material.

Then there was my interest in urban exploration. What a great way to immerse myself in Amsterdam by riding into new neighbourhoods, discovering intriguing spots, making my way through a cool building or courtyard and just observing how people live. Thanks to this gig, I can confidently say that there hasn’t been a street I haven’t ridden down in Amsterdam.

Side view near st. nicholas basilica

Inside an ornate building on prinsengracht

Inside an ornate building on Damrak

Rain or shine, I approached every moment with gratitude, especially when it came to the lighter side of things. Whether it was trying to figure out how a Dutch doorbell works, getting hit with soccer balls, having a customer apologize for not having any tip money while dumping a bowl of coins into my hand, and being laughed at by tourists when I got stock coming out stuck coming out of a Krul while wearing the box on my back. It was all taken in stride.

Ornate Dutch door knob

Dutch door knob

Deliveroo tips

Yay, I got a tip!

Funny door signs

A notice for all

Change is coming

But with some of this idle time, it had me wonder how the company can afford to pay all their riders, not to mention the gear, support staff, office space, marketing and other additional operational costs while aiming to turn a profit. There is a EUR 2,50 delivery fee paid by the customer, yet Deliveroo would pay me EUR 27 while working a 3 hour late afternoon shift in Oost (East zone) while I did just one order.

Without knowing how much of cut Deliveroo gets in their contract with restaurants, the numbers just weren’t adding up even with orders during peak hours were taken into consideration.

It would seem that a new system was inevitable. The first indication that something was on the horizon came from periodic surveys sent out to all the drivers. “Would you consider a model in which you get paid per drop?” is a pretty clear indication of gathering a census before an impending change.

A new experiment

In may of 2017, Deliveroo began to experiment with new ZZP model across cities in South Holland (ZZP stands for Zelfstandig Zonder Personeel, which means that someone who becomes a self-employed.) While there were several concerns raised by riders during the pilot run requiring immediate changes, Deliveroo stated that “We’ve found that 8 in 10 riders working on the fee per delivery payment model believe that this way of working gives them the freedom to fit work around their life.” It was clear the writing was on the wall and that a new delivery model affecting all riders was on its way.

But as human beings

The writing was on the wall

There is also a caveat under Dutch Law in which an employer has to officially offer full-time employment along with related benefits to anyone who has worked twenty-three consecutive months of contracts. With that in mind, it was announced in August of 2017 that they will no longer be extending contracts.

February 1, 2018 was the date set in which all employment contracts would end, though Deliveroo would honour whatever was left of any remaining employment agreement.

By the end of March of 2018, I became one of the handful of employed couriers left in Amsterdam. What follows is my experience of working as deliveroo rider in the controversial freelance model. Read the second part here.

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