Deliveroo is a British food delivery company founded in 2013 by Americans Will Shu and Greg Orlowski. The concept came about when Shu moved to London from New York. He was reportedly astonished to discover it was so difficult to get good quality food delivered in his new home. To address this gap in the market, Shu and childhood friend Orlowski started work designing a food delivery phone app. Deliveroo uses drivers on both bikes and motorbikes to deliver food from restaurant to customer. The company makes a profit by charging restaurants a commission fee and customers a fee per order. Headquartered in London, the company now operates in two hundred cities in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Australia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong. In Kingston, 48 restaurants are currently working with the Deliveroo app.

Cycling is integral to Deliveroo’s business model. The app limits customers to ordering from restaurants in their locality, which means cyclists can easily cover the distances required. The company claims it wants to encourage people to order from local restaurants and also protect the environment, stating that bicycles and motorbikes reduce congestion and pollution. Bicycles are also often the quickest means of transport in urban areas with heavy traffic. Deliveroo sells its rider’s a highly reflective jacket. It also provides lights and helmets upon request. However, some have criticised the company for its failure to provide cycle training to its sometimes inexperienced riders. It has been also been argued that the pressure to race to meet the target delivery time of 32 minutes, encourages risky cycling. Along with minicab company Uber, Deliveroo hit the headlines last year over whether workers in the new ‘gig-economy’ were actually self-employed or whether the companies should be obliged to provide sick pay and holiday allowances.

In Conversation with Martyn White

We caught up with Martyn White who made bicycle deliveries for Deliveroo throughout 2017

So how did you get involved with Deliveroo?

I had recently left my full time job to attempt to set up my own business which was selling fabrics on a market stall, basically. So while I was in the process of setting that up but still living in London, it made sense to be able to get some easy income in a flexible way; to be able to work either in the mornings or in the evenings at times that suited me.

What does a typical shift look like?

When you first start, you have to pick a zone. A zone you’re gonna have to work in so obviously you’re gonna have to get to that zone if you don’t already live in it. You switch on the app and, unless it’s sort of a Monday morning, there’s orders coming through straight away. So someone would have ordered something from a restaurant that’s close to you. The application would pick you up that you’re the closest rider, you accept the order and then you just have to make your way to the restaurant. Lock up your bike. Walk inside with the Deliveroo bag, pick up the food and then get it as quickly as possible to the customer’s house.

Why are bicycles suited to Deliveroo delivery?

I think mainly in cities they work really really well. In a lot of cases, when you’re talking about relatively short distances over a couple of miles, bikes are actually just a lot quicker than cars. You can cut through traffic, if there is any, quite quickly. And you can take routes that cars can’t take; along river paths things like that. So a lot of the time across short distances they’re actually a lot quicker.

Have you ever found timings an issue?

Not really. They do collect your delivery times and they do tell you at the end of every month who the the fastest rider was and stuff like that. And I think they probably would pick you up if you were being extremely slow. But the zone they get you to work in is actually normally pretty good -quite do-able. And after a few shifts, you start to get to know the area that you’re in quite well. It really isn’t that big…on a bike anyway. So the times have never really been an issue, no.

So tell us about the equipment you get given to do the job…

So you get given a pretty big bag, which takes a bit of getting used to. That big bag on your back is a thermal bag and then there’s another thermal bag that sits within that. So the food sits within the inner thermal bag and then it’s all in a big bag that you strap onto your back. A big square sort of cube bag. It takes a bit of getting used to because normally, when you’re cycling you can look behind you for oncoming cars relatively easily, which you can’t do with this bag on your back, so you have to sort of develop a new way of riding so that you can stay safe. You do have to buy it. You have to purchase the bag and the jacket, unless you already have a hi-vis jacket, but you definitely have to purchase the bag. And you can purchase the helmets and lights from them as well and it’s just taken off your first few salary packets. I think the bag was about 50 pounds.

Are any jobs that are trickier than others?

There were certain restaurants that I just found didn’t use very good packaging. So I was always really worried on the cycle from those restaurants to the customer’s house that the food was gonna go over my back. And that did happen one time and I had to cut the shift early. I literally got to the door and I had a feeling that something had happened. So I went to open the bag first to check it before I got to the door but they had seen me through the window. So they came out as I was opening the bag to check it and they obviously just saw that it was ruined. Luckily, it was quite obvious that the food had spilled within the bag and the bottom of the bag had just fallen out because of the moisture, it was a curry so it was just the moisture had gone through and the bag had fallen out. So they could sort of could see that it was the packaging that that that had let us down. So they weren’t too upset with me. I was obviously worried about that. But I had to cut my shift early and go home and clean the bag. Luckily ,the customer just said it was fine, it was only one of the dishes that that had come out. The rest of the food was OK…despite having some wet packaging.

Is getting lost an issue?

The app connects you to Google Maps. So you can immediately pick an address and just get it on your Maps. I would wear headphones, so I’d get the directions in my headphones. And like I said, after the first few shifts you do start to get to know the area so you know roughly where things are gonna be. But every now and again you get that thing when you’re using Google Maps and it takes you somewhere and you realise you’re just not where you need to be! So there’s quite a bit of just looking at the map and trying to work out where you are based on street names. And all this time, the food in your bag’s getting colder and colder and you’re trying to wheel your bike at the same time and stuff like that. So definitely had some times where there was an extra 20 minutes on the delivery time cos I just couldn’t find where I was going. So yeah it happens for sure.

What about locking up your bike?

It definitely is a bit of a pain I found. I remember before I started actually I wanted to know what the best thing to do was. I actually found a video on YouTube of someone explaining what they normally do. And they were just leaving their bike just outside the place they went in. But I don’t think they were in London, so I definitely wouldn’t have felt good leaving my sort of pride and joy racer outside. So yeah that’s definitely a bit of a hassle having to use the coil lock and the more you use those locks the more coiled they get as well. So that that was a hassle yeah for sure.

Why do Deliveroos hang around in packs?

So the app tells you where the best places are to wait for jobs. You’ll get that thing where you recognise another Deliveroo rider and you either get a nod if both people are busy or you can definitely have a chat about sort of what time you finish or sort of restaurants that don’t provide the right packaging…that kinda stuff. So you definitely get that. And also you all tend to be people that like cycling anyway. I don’t think you’d be able to do it unless you really enjoyed cycling. So you get to talk to people about their bikes and why they ride certain bikes and that sort of thing.

Was your experience working with Deliveroo a positive one?

Yeah definitely, it was really good exercise. When the weather was good actually - I’ve got to say - it’s probably one of the best jobs in terms of what you’re doing. So even when it’s nice weather and you’re just picking up order after order, grabbing food for people, dropping it off, just pretty much cycling back and forth in the sunshine or on an mild evening it’s really good. Obviously, there are times when it’s freezing and it’s raining and you’ve forgotten your gloves and it can turn into one of the hardest jobs in the world. But overall, it’s quite good, I think especially for someone that’s part time. I think full time, there are issues that come around regarding holiday pay and stuff like that because you’re technically self employed. So if you take time off you don’t get paid unlike a normal job. But definitely I’d say as a part time rider, I’d say it was much more positive than negative. A really nice way to earn some extra money.