An hour with the foot soldiers of food delivery

  • Sarit Ray, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jul 28, 2016 16:13 IST
Food delivery apps are changing the way we order food

From “Boss, order lena…” phone calls, and trying to grasp names of dishes thrown full speed at you, we graduated to looking up menus beforehand on Zomato. Now, we use an app. No interaction. No misunderstood orders. No calling back and being told, “The food’s on its way.”

A generation that’d rather bury its head in a phone than have a conversation (with anyone) gets to do that for food. It’s perfect.

The only interaction left, in fact, is with the guy who brings you the food. Not churlish, like the boys of old from the local eatery; not hanging around in the hope of a 10-rupee tip.

The new guys – the app delivery guys – smile, they wish you a good day, and they’re in uniform.

But, except for that little moment of calm in which they’re handing over your order, out of a temperature-controlled bag, they’re in a frantic rush. Zipping through the city, come rain or choked flyovers, at full speed.

And where did this army on two wheels, in bright helmets, massive bags slung on the back, come from, anyway?

Dinesh Chaurasiya, our rider for the day, has been doing deliveries for seven years now. He says demand is higher now (Photo: Sarit Ray/HT)

We decided to tag along, on a Saturday afternoon during lunch hour.

1pm: I’m on the crowded side of Goa Street, Fort, behind CST. Amid the warehouses and little shops is the Scootsy ‘hub’: the nodal point, where a small team sits on computers tracking all orders in south Mumbai, and which then assigns pick-ups and deliveries to riders. If you’re picturing utilitarian furniture and air-conditioning, you’re far off. It’s a cramped, little room, evidently a tea stall emptied out, as the sign outside suggests.

This is also the starting point for the riders each morning. They start at 11, and finish at 11. Twelve-hour shifts, six days a week, no weekends off, though they do get 30 days of leave in a year.

I’m riding with Dinesh Chaurasiya. He’s 32, married, with three kids, and lives in Kalyan. He used to work as a two-wheeler mechanic. He’d service delivery guys’ bikes, until he figured it pays better to ride one. Scootsy is his latest gig, but Dinesh has been doing deliveries for seven years now. He was with Meals on Wheels before Scootsy bought them out.

He says the demand’s higher now. He went from an 8-hour work day to an 11-hour one. But longer hours means better pay, so he isn’t complaining. He makes a little over Rs 20,000, in salary, reimbursement, and incentives: a day’s extra salary if you complete 100 orders in a month; three days’ salary if you do 300.

1.30pm: Our first stop is Royal China, behind Sterling Cinema. The manager knows him well. “I’ve known him for years,” he says. While we wait, we meet a rider from Swiggy. They all know each other, of course. He says he used to do deliveries for Flipkart. But he gave that up because he had to haul 50-60 kgs at a time. Food is easier, he says.

2pm: We’re on Peddar Road , in a posh apartment complex bang opposite Antilla. The guard knows Dinesh rather well, too.

2.10pm: He’s already got his next order: someone in Churchgate wants ice-cream. So, we’re off to Baskin Robbins on Marine Lines to get it.

2.30pm: It’s a tiny order. Not even worth Rs 200. Dinesh says even if you order food worth Rs 20, they deliver. He gets to tick off one more order, one closer to 100. So he doesn’t mind it one bit.

2.45pm: Churchgate, where a couple of teenagers grab their presumably-post-lunch ice cream.

2.50pm: I meet another rider, Anil, here, and manage a quick chat. He’s the younger version of Dinesh, from 7 years back. He’s 25, already married, with a kid. He dropped out of school after class 10, and did odd jobs. He makes the most of his education, though, and insists on speaking in English for the duration that I shoot the video. He “loves” this job, he says. Not surprising, since it lets him do two things a majority of Indian youth have a penchant for: riding bikes; fiddling with mobile phones. Before we’re on our way again, he adds me on Facebook.

3.30pm: Dinesh’s next order is from Sher-e-Punjab. This is where I say goodbye, apologise for causing whatever delays I have. One slow day, two slow hours might reduce his chances of hitting incentive targets.

We squeeze in one last chat. When does he see his kids, I ask? He leaves home early, and the kids are asleep by the time he’s back. He says it’s rare as he smiles. It’s a father’s happy-sad smile. When he does, though, he says they make the most of it.

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