Confessions of a Virtual Waitress

#DeleteUberEATS

Effectively, what these food apps have managed to do is take us one step further away from having a relationship with our food and where it comes from. They have stripped the face of labor from the service industry.

This surge in food-delivery apps seems to be yet another offshoot of the Silicon Valley -- born gig economy, whereby temporary, contracted labor is packaged in fun colors and careful vowel elimination that somehow make exploitation "fun." [...]

And it is a particularly isolated industry at that. The drivers are isolated from one another -- a tactic employers have consistently used throughout modern history to skirt attempts at unionization. Waitresses and cooks never see the consumers. Sometimes I try to imagine what the cute couple who order matching breakfast burritos every Sunday morning looks like, but I'll never know. [...]

As I confirm your orders, I have to wonder why this means of sustenance is so popular. Efficiency and ease? Maybe. It seems more likely, though, that a food app's convenience lies not in its ability to save time but rather in that it demands only minimal communication with those on the other end. It's a choice driven by the desire to limit one's chitchat to only those who also speak the language of code. With food at the tip of the fingers through a heat-activated Plexiglass button, no across-the-counter talk is required.

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19 Responses:

  1. Jeff Warnica says:

    I'm trying to remember the last time I had a meaningful relationship with an actual table service person. I'm sure its happened, I don't remember (and I did 250 nights in hotels last year. I eat out a lot). Most are annoying gatekeepers between myself and their POS system.

    I am 100% sure I've never had a meaningful relationship with someone serving me takeout, or delivering it to me.

    Of course I want to use an app.

    • extra88 says:

      UberEATS drivers are placeholders until the drones can take over. The drivers being isolated from one another is not a "tactic," it's an inevitable result of how the job gets done. If they want to start a subreddit or have meetups to be less isolated, they should go for it. Unionization could be a good idea but I would care more about the coders receiving the orders unionizing than the gig economy drivers.

      When I've chosen not to eat inside a restaurant, the relationship ship has already sailed. For me it was never there in the first place, the odds of me remembering waitstaff for positive reasons are vanishingly small; be pleasant, efficient, forgettable. I don't use 3rd party delivery services because as flaky as individual store drivers may be, I don't want to add a 3rd party to the mix, a gap through which responsibility can fall. I'll probably get over it if it becomes more prevalent for restaurants skip the hassle of having their own drivers. The closest I came to a meaningful relationship was actually with a delivery person I called "bicycle guy." After many months of ordering from the same place way too often, he was very pleasant and efficient but no one after so many repetitions would be forgettable (I later learned his name when he technically worked for me as an office temp, total coincidence).

      "Sometimes I try to imagine what the cute couple who order matching breakfast burritos every Sunday morning looks like, but I'll never know." That's just creepy and all about you, not the customer's experience. I don't want you thinking about me at all, I'm afraid you'll think my order is just for me, the fat guy.

    • Glaurung says:

      "I am 100% sure I've never had a meaningful relationship with someone serving me takeout, or delivering it to me."

      Grumpy misanthropes like yourself explain why the woman who runs the local wings place gives me free bottles of water when I drop by to place an order. Because I'm polite and pleasant to her, despite the language barrier. I feel sorry for people who would prefer to oversee the steady withering of their soul than actually talk with the hoi polloi.

      • extra88 says:

        A) You're welcome for the free water.
        B) If you equate being polite and pleasant with conducting a meaningful relationship, raise your standards.
        C) I'll see your self-congratulatory pity and raise you a condescending "aww" about blather about "souls."

  2. Zach Fine says:

    > It's a choice driven by the desire to limit one's chitchat to only those who also speak the language of code.

    That’s an interesting-sounding conclusion which doesn’t match up with my experience in any way.

    Rather I’d offer up the fact that exhausted working people with babies at home often choose to order online delivery because it frees them up to do other childcare-related tasks while someone else prepares and delivers the food. That’s what drives our Uber-eats/Caviar/whatever-else food delivery orders. It’s not hard to imagine that there are other folk in different circumstances who also are choosing not between going to a restaurant and ordering takeout but between falling asleep while attempting to cook or ordering takeout, and these days they’re often ordering using an app because it makes the process easy and centralized, not because they hate human interaction in general.

    And the online process has many advantages over the use of the telephone. Verifying ones address and payment information on-screen is great. I’ve never found ordering takeout over the phone to be a terribly warm and fuzzy experience, so ordering food online doesn’t feel like a step backward in that regard.

    You’ve got my ear for the economic analysis. If everyone involved in the process of food preparation and delivery wanted to organize I’d be in support of that. But that issue feels only tangentially-related to the existence of online food-ordering platforms. And in an ideal world, I’d hope there’d still be the ability to order takeout from the idealized unionized shop using an app.

    Trust me I’d rather go sit in a restaurant and relax and chit-chat, and I’d like for workers to be paid well, but circumstances don’t always make going to the restaurant appealing. It’s order or no order, phone or app, not go or no go.

    • Glaurung says:

      "And the online process has many advantages over the use of the telephone. Verifying ones address and payment information on-screen is great. I’ve never found ordering takeout over the phone to be a terribly warm and fuzzy experience, so ordering food online doesn’t feel like a step backward in that regard."

      Even if I didn`t have food sensitivities that require me to make specific requests that don`t play well with an online ordering system, I would still prefer to order over the phone. Because it`s a fun point of social contact.

      And Jeeze, how hard is it to recite your phone number and address? Payment information? You give your card to the driver, they tap it or insert it on their little mobile thingie, you type your pin, it`s paid for. Simple, and I trust the driver and the store employees with my card info a lot more than would some e commerce website with god knows what kind of security against hacking.

      • extra88 says:

        > Jeeze, how hard is it to recite your phone number and address?

        And poof your empathy is gone, as if it wasn't there at all.

      • tfofurn says:

        My street name looks like a typo. I have to say "It looks like a typo, but it's spelled like this . . ." Even then, I get calls saying "My GPS doesn't have your street" because a human corrected the "wrong" doubled letter or because their spell checker changed the last letter to make a common word.

        I don't get food delivered often, but my recollection is that I'd have to recite my entire card number (and probably CVV) over the phone. I've never seen a driver with a scanner and pin pad. Perhaps it's different in your country?

      • pavel_lishin says:

        > And Jeeze, how hard is it to recite your phone number and address?

        Moderately. It's a lot of numbers, all of which have to be confirmed - by me, usually, because the person (presumably?) writing them down at the other end never echoes the digits I'm reading off. So I ask them to confirm, so that when the delivery guy gets the address wrong, he can actually call me and ask why he can't find my building at 538 WEST on the EAST side of the island.

        > Payment information?

        Let me dig out the credit card out of my wallet. Shit, where's my wallet. Ok, here it is, it's ... are you ready? Okay, it's 4111... four, the first digit is four. 4111. 8374, 7443... okay, I'll wait... okay, it's 7443. 3982. What, no, I gave you all sixteen. Okay, it's 4111. Eight three. Seven... four... Seven... four... no, that's the next... you know what, nevermind, I'm gonna get Domino's.

  3. jwz says:

    Man, I can already tell I'm going to need a bath to get the cheeto dust off of me after the comments this post is going to attract.

  4. Scrooge McDuck says:

    > Efficiency and ease? Maybe.
    Not maybe. Yes.

    > It seems more likely, though, that a food app's convenience lies not in its ability to save time but rather in that it demands only minimal communication with those on the other end.
    ...well, yeah. That's how it saves time. That is one of the mechanisms by which time is saved.

    > It's a choice driven by the desire to limit one's chitchat to only those who also speak the language of code.
    I suppose if we're being precise, the time isn't "saved". It's just reallocated. The time I spend talking to a random person will instead be spent one way or another. Possibly spent interacting with someone I'm guaranteed- or at least more likely- to have something in common with. Not necessarily someone who knows code, but someone who shares a taste in books or film or music or whatever.

    Y'know.
    Shared life experience.
    The basis of all meaningful friendship.

    ...

    However, in reality, all that's irrelevant because I'm not using a delivery app instead of going to a restaurant or interacting with people. Those were never meaningfully options on the table.

    I'm using a delivery app instead of not eating that evening, which is what happens most evenings. I often forget to eat, and occasionally get low blood sugar, and I don't live within a ten minute walk of a grocery store. Apparently I can't even occasionally eat a nice dinner now without some stranger on the internet musing about how it's because I'm a dystopian technocrat elitist shunning the poor from within my ivory tower of infinite disdain.

  5. Jay says:

    The problem I have with delivery is that a lot of good food doesn't travel well, just about everything is going to be soggy after 20 minutes of steaming in its own container. But when I'm too tired or just feeling too lousy to go out and I'm out of food at the house, it's a life saver. But for anyone who actually likes eating good food, I don't think it will ever really be competitive with dining in.

    I'm also not seeing any evidence that delivery services are reducing the number of people choosing to dine in, decent places are just as full as they've ever been.

    • Glaurung says:

      "The problem I have with delivery is that a lot of good food doesn't travel well,"

      If you live in a walkable neighbourhood, this is easily solved by going around and seeing what choices are available in your immediate vicinity. Ask for takeout menus from the ones you like and order directly over the phone; your food arrives quickly and after only a minimum amount of travel time.

      • Anonymous says:

        Who's the one out of touch with the masses? Just relocate yourself to a walkable neighborhood that surrounds you with eateries, they said. Should that come before or after the prescription to just eat cake? If eating cake, does a person have any reason left for wanting takeout? Maybe order takeout from a place specializing in cake?

        > your food arrives quickly and after only a minimum amount of travel time

        Do you know how restaurants with in-house delivery usually work, or for that matter how these "peer economy" startup delivery services are doing things?

        Any pizza place I've ever heard of, for example, has a few shift drivers who load up orders in batches and then hit the dropoff sites, like a FedEx driver taking an improvised, ad-hoc route. So even if your food isn't taking a spa day in the driver's backseat, it's sitting back at the shop doing the same thing while awaiting the driver's return.

        These delivery services are almost always dispatching one driver on-demand for each order.

        Disclosure: I've done food delivery for UberEATS, and I'm almost definitely going to be heading out in a couple hours to do it tonight. The fact that I even worry that I'm compelled to add this disclaimer is a little perverse, by the way, since what means is that I'm talking from firsthand experience about things I actually understand, rather than from my ass.

  6. PaulJBis says:

    All this talk about "human contact" between customers and service industry workers reminds me of that scene in "Adaptation", where Nicolas Cage's waitress is nice to him, they chat, laugh, seem to share a moment of genuine empathy... and then Cage, encouraged by it, decides to ask her out.

    "Meaningful relationships", yeah, whatever. Technically, being sexually harassed by yogur customer is meaningful.

  7. thielges says:

    In winter Doordash and uber eats are a scourge on those who prefer to dine in meatspace. The front door keeps flapping open to allow couriers with their insulated bags in and out. Each flash delivery lets two blasts of cold air invade the formally cozy dining area that under pre delivery circumstances could not support that volume of traffic.

    How 'bout using the kitchen entrance? It's hot in there and the cooks might appreciate a refreshing blast of cold air.

    • Anonymous says:

      How about making this suggestion to the restaurant staff? You realize that UberEATS et al set the place up with an account and a quasi-point-of-sale tablet, but aren't going around dictating where and and how the restaurant should interact with the driver—that's the choice of the restaurateur.

      I'd much rather be entering through the kitchen because it's going to decrease my need to find street parking (or slightly less worse: park in the 15-minute commercial zones in the alley but still waste times walking around to the front). It would also drastically reduce the interactions I have with staff who are out of their minds and expect me to stand in line to be processed like a walk-in customer rather than, you know, someone who's trying to service the order they paged me for.

  8. A Kaleberg says:

    NYC always had food delivery, even back before we had computers, and food delivery wasn't just for the wealthy. Even people of modest means would get food, laundry, groceries, newspapers and so on delivered. These apps seem to be about offering that convenience elsewhere, especially now that the great suburban experiment is unraveling and people are moving back to the cities. To be honest, I'm surprised the big food chains haven't started offering delivery.

    As an introvert, I can understand the allure of being able to order a meal without having to interact with anyone. The Automat was great for that back in the old days. Granted, this severs a lot of the social aspects of serving food, but that's something women always had to do and they rarely got much in the way of cash or credit for it. We've entered the age of femina economica, if you'll pardon my Latin. That social thing was getting old, and it's best when it actually means something anyway.

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