Photo by Roman Odintsov/Pexels

During the long holiday break from college, I wanted to make some extra money since my usual job as a campus tutor was also on hold.

A good friend had recently started delivering food for Uber Eats and DoorDash and suggested I go with him one night to see what it was like. Maybe because I was just observing and not actually doing it, I thought it would be really easy. Turns out, as you might expect, that is not the case. Not at first, anyway.

I signed up for both Uber Eats and DoorDash that night and was approved quickly. On my first night, I decided to concentrate on Intown, since both apps were alerting me that these were “hot spots” with lots of delivery opportunities. My phone was buzzing and chirping to let me know that lots of people were hungry and waiting on their food.

I started making rookie mistakes almost immediately and my stress level was high.

First of all, I don’t know how people deliver food alone, especially in places like Midtown and Buckhead where parking is impossible.

If you’ve ever been on Peachtree Street or Spring Street and someone with their hazard lights blinking was blocking a lane, that’s likely a food delivery person. I was one of them that night, getting honked at, told I couldn’t park by security, and worrying if my car was going to be hit or booted while I was inside.

I also tried to do multiple pick-ups and deliveries, which just added to my stress, but it was also an opportunity to make more money. Which is the point, right? One pick-up would go smoothly, and I’d get to the next restaurant and the food wouldn’t be ready, which meant waiting around. That added to my stress because I had other customers’ food getting cold in my car.

While the majority of people just want their food left outside the door, some had instructions that the food must be put in their hands. This meant roaming the hallways of high-rise buildings while who knows what was happening to my illegally parked car.

Although I worked for five hours, I only made about $50 bucks. The tips were poor (or nonexistent) and I was exhausted afterward. If I was going to keep doing this, I was going to have to recruit a driver.

Luckily, another friend of mine was bored and offered to be my driver. My stress level went down immediately, and I decided to try the Decatur area for my second night. This was a good choice. I made about five deliveries in a mile circumference in less than an hour. The drop-offs were simple (leave it on the porch) and tips were generous.

Then. I got lured out of the city by a big dollar delivery and a glowing “hot spot” of activity in The Battery district around Truist Park.  I stopped paying attention to how far the delivery destination was and just started looking at the fee I would be making. That meant I was burning gas, adding more miles to my car and, literally, driving all over the north metro area.

I was also surprised by how much people were willing to pay to have their favorite food delivered. I picked up an order in The Battery and delivered it to Dunwoody. Someone else ordered from a restaurant near Perimeter Mall and wanted it brought to Buckhead.

The same night we were driving all over north metro was also the night I got yelled at by a customer. He had ordered from a restaurant, which took nearly half an hour to prepare the food while I waited. I should have just canceled and picked up another delivery, but I felt bad the customer had been waiting so long.

When I finally got to his house, I couldn’t find it in the maze of townhouses and hard-to-identify streets. It was also raining and cold. The customer yelled a few expletives at me and, obviously, there was no tip.

We drove for about six hours, put one-hundred-plus miles on my car, and earned under $100. It didn’t feel worth it. I had to come up with a strategy. So, I started reading about other delivery drivers’ experiences and suggestions and hit upon a formula: stick to an area, make as many multiple deliveries as possible, and don’t be lured to a new area just because it’s temporarily a “hot spot.”

I found my “delivery groove” after about a week. I decided to concentrate on the Sandy Springs and Dunwoody areas right as people were getting off work at 5 p.m. I also tried lunchtime delivery starting at 11 a.m. I was making lots of deliveries within a few miles to homes and apartments, which meant I could drive alone. Some days, the deliveries kept buzzing my phone from lunch to dinner with hardly a break.

My daily goal was to try and make $100. Some days I did, some days I only got $50 or $60. I learned to stop being greedy and be more attentive to making a lot of deliveries in as few hours as possible and as close together as possible – that’s called “batching.”

Over the three-plus weeks I was on break, I made around $1,200 – but when you subtract for gas it was probably closer to $9,00. When classes started back in January, I kept doing deliveries as my schedule allowed – usually on Friday nights or Saturdays when I was in the mood. And I’m still doing it a few times a month to earn a little extra money.

Now, I’m trying to decide if I should go on a spring break trip or stay here and make money. It’s good to have choices, but I’m also still learning how to deliver smarter. And don’t forget to tip your delivery person!

Jacob Nguyen

Jacob Nguyen is a freelance writer and photographer in Atlanta.