Shocking report suggests that tipping delivery drivers may not work how you think

Twisted: Unserious food tastes seriously good.

Tipping is always a tricky business. Not only is it different everywhere you go, but if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you’re almost guaranteed to irritate somebody. If, like me, you worry more about not looking like a total tool than actually enjoying your food, tipping makes any restaurant visit about as relaxing as a proctology exam.

Tip jar Credit: Pixabay/tadhanna

In most situations, despite the obvious awkwardness, you can at least guarantee that whoever is serving you is going to benefit from whatever you’ve decided to leave. This, obviously, is the entire point of the exercise. However, thanks to a combination of tech and our general unwillingness to leave the home, our dining habits have given rise to an altogether different kind of eating experience. More than ever, people are ordering high quality food to be enjoyed in the comfort of their own sitting room.

Anyone who is familiar with companies like Instacart, DoorDash and Deliveroo will know that all orders come with the option to include an additional driver’s tip. This system theoretically has the dual benefit of preserving anonymity while helping you feel smug and generous. However, according to a new report from NBC, tipping delivery drivers may be way more controversial than we thought.

The story, which first appeared on Monday, details how, instead of providing a bonus, several companies may be using optional tips to supplement existing worker wages, meaning that drivers are sometimes not receiving anything extra for their work. The report cites online forums dedicated to gig economy workers.

The issue appears to have arisen as a direct result of a new payment structure implemented by several delivery companies at the back end of 2018. While under the old system, drivers would receive a base rate, plus a fixed fee for every item ordered, the new guidelines stipulate that companies guarantee a $10 payout for each order, regardless of how many items are requested. If the $10 amount is not reached, tips are being used as a supplement. Only after $10 will tips actually count as tips.

It might not seem like much, but some drivers are reporting that their earnings have decreased by as much as 30-40% as a result of the change. One employee posted screenshots revealing how they had received an $0.80 payment from Instacart for 69 minutes of work, supplemented by a $10 customer tip. This essentially suggests that tips are being used as basic pay, rather than a bonus.

Though several of the companies involved have responded that they are always “transparent with workers about their pay structure,” the report has garnered criticism from consumer watchdogs. Last week, a class action lawsuit was filed in California, alleging that Instacart “intentionally and maliciously misappropriated gratuities in order to pay plaintiff’s wages even though Instacart maintained that 100 percent of customer tips went directly to shoppers.” While we wait for the verdict, it looks like online tipping is much more murky than we may have suspected.