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Riding Along With A State College Delivery Driver

While the coronavirus pandemic has kept folks largely inside for more than a year now, food delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats have each taken the world by storm. Now, people are using the apps more than ever, even as the country eases its way back to indoor dining.

State College is not exempt from the rise of these apps, something Aidan Meier, a junior Penn State student and delivery driver, knows all too well.

He allowed me to ride along for one of his shifts from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, better known as the dinner rush. Aidan used to try delivering on these hours on weekdays, though his busy class schedule ultimately forced him to stick to weekends.

Aidan began delivering at the tail end of spring 2020 when more and more were deciding to become personal shoppers at supermarkets or food delivery drivers through apps.

Like many, Aidan sticks to playing it as a numbers game, attempting to garner at least $25 per hour from Grubhub deliveries, fulfilling anywhere between six and 12 orders. He prefers Grubhub over DoorDash but works with both nonetheless. He has not, however, tried delivering with UberEats.

To begin the shift, Aidan started off with what he described as “the longest he’s ever waited for an order,” which ended up being about two minutes. After those brief two minutes passed, Aidan received his first task: an order at BRGR, signaled by a cowbell noise. He’s probably heard the noise hundreds of times at this point, but as a first-time listener, I thought it was a fun little nuance.

He wasn’t thrilled by the order being at BRGR, as parking can be hard to come by on College Ave. But, miraculously, he happened to drive up to a parking spot right away. Finding parking is one of Aidan’s least favorite parts of the job. Pedestrians aimlessly walking downtown, the rain, and delivering to frats when people are in the front yard are also high on his list of stressors on the job.

BRGR had Aidan wait 10 minutes for the food to be ready. He wasn’t surprised by this and said BRGR can usually be on the slower side in terms of preparing food.

In his spare time, Aidan went into the next-door CVS and picked up a protein bar, noting that it’s quite easy to get hungry on the job. Who could blame him? The grilled cheese bites in the back smelled appetizing, and the cookies ‘n’ cream milkshake in the cupholder up front looked amazing.

As good as it smelled in the car, Aidan said BRGR isn’t actually the most popular choice for his deliveries. Two of the top choices from customers are Five Guys and Little Szechuan.

Now, I’m not really supposed to say this, but Aidan doesn’t normally take the insulation bags with him into the restaurants. The only restaurant to require the bag up front, Aidan noted, is Bradley’s Cheesesteaks. He will, however, put the food in the bags once he’s returned to the car with the food. So, if you ever have Aidan as your food delivery driver, fear not, your food will be hot.

We completed the delivery to a neighborhood outside of downtown State College. I noted that the houses don’t look like ones a student would normally live in, and Aidan informed me that the distribution between orderers is actually about a 50/50 split between students and townies.

Immediately after exiting the neighborhood, Aidan got his next order: a “twofer” at Chipotle (read: picking up two different orders to deliver). He said this is often one of the best ways to bring in more money quickly.

He told me that Chipotle is sometimes the slowest when it comes to picking up food for delivery. The all-time longest wait he’s ever had to make, though, was at the Primanti Bros. just next door. He said one time, he needed to wait an hour just to pick up the order.

He would soon be proven wrong, though, as he pulled up, parked (illegally!), went in to pick up the two orders, and was out of the restaurant in three minutes flat.

With quick movement like that, you’d think there’s a playlist that Aidan listens to that keeps an upbeat tempo. It’s actually quite the opposite for him. He has a couple of different playlists he likes to listen to, but he often opts for a mix between lo-fi and rap music. It didn’t always play when he got into his car, but I was just shocked to know that he was flying down roads while listening to music most would call “chill.”

Speaking of which, Aidan drives a 2014 Mazda 3 with 62,000 miles on it, 4,000 of which are from delivering food alone, he says. He told me it’s a good car for the job, though it might sometimes be better to have an older car so you don’t need to worry about racking up miles on it.

After a few more orders, one of which came from the KFC on South Atherton following nearly a 20-minute wait, Aidan got another order that he ended up rejecting. Shocked and not knowing that someone could do that, I asked why. He ended up declining it because it was a bit too far away for him and not worth the effort. He accepts around 70% of orders, but the other 30% often come from the Boalsburg area for lower prices, which is too strenuous and not always viable.

A few more orders came and went, and after rejecting orders for The Koop twice due to a previously nightmarish delivery experience, Aidan received an order from Hoss’s Steak and Sea House on North Atherton, which would end up being his final delivery of the shift.

With this specific restaurant, though, things run a bit differently with delivery apps because of the way its computers are set up.

That said, the customer couldn’t pay for the food directly through the app, so Aidan needed to go into the restaurant, order the food, pay for it using the Grubhub card, and deliver it while the customer pays Grubhub for both the food and Aidan’s delivery.

Overall, this is a bit of a hassle because it ends up creating a long wait for the food. After all, they need to wait to start from the moment the deliverer orders the food rather than the customer.

Aidan dropped me off before he completed this delivery since it was only a minute from where he lived, but it’s worth noting that he was delivering to someone working behind a desk. Yes, Aidan sometimes delivers to people at work, though it’s much more common during lunch hours rather than dinner.

As a food delivery driver, you deliver to a wide range of folks and a wide range of locations. As apps continue to become a mainstay in food delivery methods, drivers like Aidan get to know the State College area and its general demographics and trends like the back of their hand — all while earning a quick buck.

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About the Author

Michael Tauriello

Michael is a senior(!) majoring in industrial engineering hailing from outside of Frederick, Maryland and is Onward State's visual editor. In his spare time, he likes to explain to his friends why Mint Nittany ice cream is clearly superior to Bittersweet Mint, discuss '80s music as if it was just released yesterday, or stand around at the top of a parking deck. You can find him on Twitter talking about things only he finds interesting or making dad jokes @mtauriello_.

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