Everything is wet. The sky is wet and, as a result, the streets are wet, I am wet, my clothes are wet, my bike is wet.
The only things that aren’t wet are the burger and chips I’m delivering to a man in an office in London’s Marylebone. They’re protected by my delivery ‘backpack’ (a large box with shoulder straps), which is also wet, but only on the outside.
I’m being a Deliveroo rider, a Rooman, for a day (Roowomen are also available, though in shorter supply). If you haven’t heard of Deliveroo, it’s a British company expanding our effort-free home-dining horizons by delivering from restaurants that previously shunned putting their food on two wheels, all for a flat delivery fee of £2.50, and all from the convenience of an app. A company that started in 2013 with three restaurants now has thousands of turquoise and black-clad cyclists and motorcyclists whizzing convenient eats across 80 cities globally, including 40 in the UK.
“I know it’s pretty lazy,” says burger man. “The restaurant is only five minutes’ walk away.”
“Yeah,” I reply, agreeing in my head, yet making him feel better about his blatant idleness, “but the weather’s terrible.”
“Thanks,” he says and goes back to his office. I’m so nice (to his face). I check the Deliveroo riders’ app. He hasn’t tipped me. Nobody has. It’s my last delivery of a two-hour lunchtime shift around London, taking hot food to warm buildings, in the rain. I have pedalled, walked, smiled and provided my best “A fine Tuesday to you, guv’nor” line. And all I have to show for it is hunger, the lingering smell of a burger I can’t eat, and soggy pants.
The thing is, burger man is probably the friendliest person I’ve encountered. Perhaps I’m paranoid, but while nobody’s been outright rude, I get the definite sense of being a notch below them, like a 21st-century serf (at large offices, I’m sent to the goods entrance).
Voytek, a Rooman since last October, disagrees. “Most people are appreciative,” he says. “One time, a whole office got to its feet and applauded me when I arrived, which was weird. The worst that can happen is someone takes the food and slams the door without saying anything. But you don’t know what’s happening the other side of the door, so I accept it and move on.”
Unlike me, he doesn’t even judge people for being lazy or ordering their own bodyweight in dim sum. But like me, he rarely sees a gratuity, which makes me feel better, which in turn makes me feel guilty. There’s probably a German compound word for this emotion.
“Around five to 10 per cent of customers tip,” he says. “I can tell when someone definitely isn’t going to tip: they’re extra nice in person. You just hope that by giving a good service, the next rider will benefit.”
That doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe people don’t carry coins any more. Maybe they’re worried about a post-Brexit economy. More likely, paying on an app makes it easier to not tip. It’s not the app’s fault, though. There’s a big button that says ‘tip’. Deliveroo riders get £7 per hour, plus £1 per delivery, or no hourly rate and £3.75 per delivery. Get fast, and you can make good money, but the extra pennies make all the difference.
“Tips are a big deal,” says Voytek. “It’s an extension of the waiter’s job, and nearly everyone tips them. But I don’t let it get me down. If they tip, it’s a bonus, if they don’t, it’s normal.”
In the evening, I try again, this time on a moped (which, tied to today’s theme, I had delivered to my door by Igo-Wego, an online scooter hire company that lends wheels to many Roofolk) and in the more residential area of Islington. Weaving through north London’s traffic with my co-rider, a Brazilian called Alex, I hope for better luck. Perhaps a stranger turning up at their door with a full-face motorcycle helmet on will make them more inclined to hand over money.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the weather; the rain is incessant. But I’m in a warm Rooman coat and waterproof trousers, so my (changed since lunchtime) pants are safe. Alas, there’s no improvement on the tipping front. From social housing to swanky apartments, people are civil, but doors are never fully opened (I always take my helmet off), appreciation is verbal and cursory, never monetary.
Despite the lack of extra cash, the riders genuinely seem to love their job. At lunchtime, I meet a guy from Barcelona on a BMX who describes it as his “dream job”. Alex, an ex-chef who once got a generous tip from the Osbornes (as in George, not Ozzy) after delivering 10 pizzas to their house, is a picture of joy since ditching food-making for food-taking. And Voytek is as content as a kitten in a sock.
“It‘s a great job,” he says. “I work 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, so I’ll never need a gym. I listen to music, I’ve made friends, I work when I want. It beats an office.”
It’s hard work, though, as my stomach reminds me at the end of my shift. I go home and order some Italian food through Deliveroo. I tip, as I always will from now on. Take note, burger man – and everyone else.