There are many inherent dangers to delivering pizza, from vehicular accidents to crime and, still, COVID-19. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 there were 2,580 cases of nonfatal illnesses or injuries related to driver/sales workers in the private accommodation and food services industry, up from 2,380 in 2018. (The BLS does not break out pizza delivery drivers as a category.)
Pizzeria owners say they have systems in place to protect drivers from the risks of car wrecks and getting robbed. They also say some of the protocols related to social distancing and contactless delivery will remain post-pandemic.
Prevention is key
Hiring the right candidates is a crucial first step in protecting delivery drivers and other people on the road. “You cannot have a bad driving record,” says Joe Melton, senior vice president of operations for Denver-based Mici Handcrafted Italian. “We enforce that. Sometimes it’s tough.” After the applicant passes the interview process, management orders a motor vehicle report from the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Also, delivery drivers must have auto insurance, and Mici carries umbrella insurance to protect the company.
The six-location Mici also tries to protect drivers from other issues such as crime. Since Mici targets families as its customers, the restaurants close at 9 p.m. and do not take delivery orders after that. “We are not the 4 a.m. delivery,” Melton says. “We deliver to birthday parties, we do weddings. It’s a little different.”
Technology helps, with a system that assigns each driver to only two deliveries at a time to addresses in the same zone, so the driver is not stressed out and rushing around. Also Mici uses an app to track drivers. If a delivery takes longer than expected, or if the employee appears to be outside the parameters of the delivery location, someone will check with the driver. The restaurants also hold daily driver huddles. “Food is important but most important is safety,” Melton says. “We make them feel like it’s top of mind.”
It’s important to listen to drivers’ concerns, says Scott Mobley, chief operating officer of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Stoner’s Pizza Joint. “We deliver to every neighborhood, but sometimes a driver might say they feel uneasy making a delivery,” he says. “The key is to listen. Drivers know the area better than you do.” Sometimes Stoner’s sends two drivers to “buddy up” on a delivery.
Drivers are instructed to text the manager once they are on their way back to the restaurant. If there is an emergency, they are to call 911 and stay in the car, or drive to a well-lit area. Mobley adds that customers are told drivers do not carry cash, so they will not make change at the customer’s door. “We want to make sure they are not fumbling around for change in their pockets,” he says. When they arrive at the store, they put the cash and receipts in a lockbox.
Cash is not king
Some pizzerias do not accept cash. At Firepie in San Francisco, a trailer with a 900-degree wood burning oven, all delivery orders are credit card only. Besides helping protect drivers from being robbed, the cashless system came in handy when the pandemic made no-contact deliveries the new routine. “All deliveries are leave at the door,” says Rick Richman, founder and CEO. “The driver doesn’t interact with the customer.” Richman, who worked in logistics software before opening Firepie, says the system has another benefit, in that it enables the pizzeria to increase the number of deliveries per driver per hour.
Training is important too, and Firepie drivers are instructed not to look at their phones until they are inside their locked car. “This came about because we had a driver who was looking at her phone as she was walking back to her car,” Richman says. “They pushed her down and took her phone. We bought her a new phone because that’s how much we value our employees.”
Cash is not always the motive for robbing a delivery driver. “All too often we see drivers robbed of their cell phones, their cars and even just a pizza order,” says Jacci Zach, claims director for Intrepid Direct Insurance, based in Overland Park, Kansas. “Owners should empower their drivers to hold a delivery when the lights are not on or otherwise looks suspicious – a call from the manager to the customer asking to get the lights turned on usually shows that everything is fine.”
There are many reasons to keep drivers safe, including financial. “Pizzeria owners face liability exposure for the actions of their drivers on the road, and for injuries sustained by their drivers in those accidents,” Zach says. “Drivers operating vehicles in a reckless manner, or simply not maintaining awareness, can lead to at fault accidents and responsibility for those accidents can fall on the employer if the driver doesn’t have enough insurance coverage to foot expensive vehicle repairs, or worse, hospital bills.” In fact, Zach says, in 2018 policyholders faced liability exposure in about half of all reported accidents.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Seattle-based Zeeks Pizza already had a digital ordering system in place. The technology was updated to default to contactless delivery, and customers could stipulate where they want the delivery driver to leave the order. The challenge is that 60 percent of orders include beer, and the driver cannot leave the beer on the customer’s porch. “We have to check ID,” says Dan Black, president. “It’s the law.”
The person who placed the order must come out, set their ID down, then step back for social distancing. The delivery driver checks the ID to see if the person is 21 and is the same person who placed the order, and then sets the order down. “We call it the ID check tango,” Black says.
Contactless delivery, while meant to protect delivery drivers and customers from the novel coronavirus, can potentially remain relevant post-pandemic. “Contactless delivery is probably going to stick around,” Black says. “It’s more convenient for everybody.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.