New Orleans I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what kind of sand platform applications around food delivery are built on. The workers are hardly paid, precarious and unhappy. The restaurants are complaining and organizing for protection in some cities, and trying to figure out how to make money on the promise of added customers. The pricing is predatory and exorbitant with the delivery companies pyramiding fees and charges by adding delivery and servicing fees on top of each other to add one-third to almost a doubling of the costs for the meal when the tab is paid. Uber Eats, DoorDash, Postmates, GrubHub, and others are all in and out of fashion as tech darlings with gazillions of investor money for operations that are bleeding money as fast as their delivery people can run up the door to drop the food.
Talking recently to ACORN member in Brighton, England, and former Deliveroo driver, and author of Riding for Deliveroo, Callum Cant, he made two points on Wade’s World that keep coming back to me as an explanation for these huge contradictions.
First, remember that he noted that most of the food they are delivering is not the give-me-a-treat-of-a-special-dinner-at-home thing. It’s exactly the kind of fast food that the New York Times reporter priced when he did his comparison shopping at Subways and Panda Express. In fact, it’s fast food outlets like McDonalds where Deliveroo drivers congregated, because that’s where the orders were flying off the shelves. It is also the fast food companies that are negotiating special deals with certain delivery services that are making some of them seem potentially profitable. McDonalds, pizza places, and the like are essentially subcontracting delivery that they used to do themselves or wanted to do without the sunk cost of employees and benefits. As Cant pointed out, the marketing is gourmet, but the product is cheap and greasy.
The second observation Cant offered that seems especially spot on, is that this only makes sense if you see it as part of the “care” industry. In the United Kingdom care workers are what North Americans would call healthcare, nursing home, or home care workers. People are using these services because they are too exhausted to cook dinner, making the Times’ reporter’s suggestion that they make something at home and healthy miss the point entirely. Cant noted that customers are almost always ordering at the low end of the menu and doing so at fast food outlets and similar spots. The customer base is not high end, but working people just a smidgen less precarious than the workers themselves, running between part-time jobs, school, and families, and trying to finally collapse for a minute and have the food appear quickly despite the price, all of which defines a predatory operation.
The business model for platform capitalism, as many call it, is rooted right at the hard, sharp end of global capitalism itself and sweating out the last dollars, pounds, and euros from families who have been squeezed by work and the loss of any leisure then forced to eat crud and pay for it through the nose. This is an insufferable business model for everyone. It’s hard to believe it’s sustainable.