Is it a good idea to have riders bringing you dinner home during a global pandemic?

Quarantine imposed heavy restrictions on commercial activities, forcing many businesses and activities to close. However, food delivery services are expressly allowed by the Prime Ministerial Decree of March 11th, 2020. Restaurants and bars which had the possibility, relied on AssoDelivery companies. Therefore, riders continue working, but they lack health guarantees, and they usually work in dangerous conditions for their health. 

Is it a good idea to have riders bringing you dinner home during a global pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic started spreading in Italy on January 31st, 2020. In the beginning of March, Covid-19 had spread all over Italy. On March 9th, Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister, imposed the national lockdown. Italy became one of the first countries to put the territory under quarantine. Nearly all commercial activities were closed, except for supermarkets and pharmacies. People could not move except for necessity, work, and health circumstances. A lot of businesses and industries were closed and the movement of people was further restricted.

Due to those heavy but necessary restrictions, many workers were forced to stop working and have found themselves with huge economic damages. Roberto Gualtieri, the Minister of Finance, predicted a 6% general GDP collapse in 2020 and the FIPE (Federazione Italiana Pubblici Servizi) estimated that the entire food industry in the first quarter of 2020 will lose 10 billion euro turnover. In fact, this industry is one of the most damaged by the national restrictions due to the pandemic. 

The Prime Ministerial Decree of the11th of March 2020 provided the suspension of the activities of the catering services such as restaurants and bars. Most of the restaurants and bars closed (about 90% according to the Deputy Director of FIPE, Luciano Sbraga), but a few switched to offering food delivery services, relying mostly on AssoDelivery companies (reference organization of the Italian food delivery industry). However, only catering with home delivery in compliance with hygiene and health standards is allowed for both packaging and transport services. This enables an unlimited possibility of ordering food at home from our favorite restaurants (if they have delivery services).

When we talk about food delivery services, we immediately think of Just Eat, Gloovo, Uber Eats, Deliveroo. These platforms are brought together in the AssoDelivery association that with FIPE, provides some guidelines which guarantee the security of citizens, restaurant owners, riders, and customers since the beginning of the lockdown. The problem is that compliance with the guidelines is left to restaurant owners and riders. Riders are self-employed workers and collaborate with food delivery platforms according to a piecework system without a basic minimum wage: if they don’t work, they don’t earn. 

How the quarantine changed our habits and so the number of deliveries.

Quarantine has completely disrupted our habits, and sociality has been cut out from our lives. For this reason, everyone had to come up with new ways of entertaining themselves. Aperitifs became online meetings and sports were replaced by home workouts led by the voice of online trainers. But how have dinners at restaurants been replaced?

In the first weeks of lockdown, Italy became the land of spur-of-the-moment chefs. Baking powder and flour vanished from supermarkets while people kept on cooking pizzas and cakes at home. In the very beginning nobody ordered online food because they doubted about rules regarding sanitary protection of food and delivery.

Nevertheless, soon enough the excitement of cooking was replaced by the desire of going back to the usual restaurants. As soon as the precautions for deliveries were implemented and restaurants reinvented their organizations, online orders became the only solution to come back to ‘old’ habits. 

This represented the only way for restaurants to stay open: agencies organizing deliveries witnessed an enormous increase of restaurants subscribing to this kind of service. Therefore, many riders had to continue their work of delivering during a global pandemic and their exposure grew as the number of delivery requests did. In fact, Monica A., a rider working for a Roman pizzeria told ‘The Global Observer’  that on the weekend, online orders increased to 40% of the whole week’s deliveries compared to the 33% that was there before the lockdown. She also said that during weekdays the orders have grown significantly. She now delivers ‘8 to 10’ times in just a night.

Which kind of contract best fits the employer’s interests?

The Cura Italia decree, drawn up to specifically deal with the effects of the health emergency, provides a check of 600 € for all workers who have the VAT number or contracts (Collaboratori Coordinati e Continuativi), a kind of contract applied to workers who are halfway between employee and self-employed. 

However, having a VAT number or such a contract is a “privilege” owned by a relative minority of riders that uses scooters, cars, or those who work for small Italian companies. Initially, some companies provided contracts. But then, since the rider could have asked for a subordinate relationship, with consequent wage and social security rights, companies preferred to assign occasional contracts, with the only possibility to open the VAT number. As a result, many riders who have occasional contracts which do not have a basic minimum wage, but a piecework system that forces them to continue working despite the pandemic, without any health insurance. None of these types of contract provides a basic minimum wage, only the contracts, a privilege for very few riders provide the obligation of both health insurance and coverage against accidents at work.

Moreover, the food delivery platforms use a ranking system to select the riders they want to employ based on their speed, availability, and the number of deliveries they are able to make. This allows those who are higher in the ranking to book working hours when the requests are very high -in the evening. Delivery services being the main source of income to 34% of riders (according to an INPS annual report), many riders are still risking their health to continue their work. 

New (in)efficient measures.

Due to the pandemic, dining establishments and companies such as Assodelivery had to implement new safety measures. Unfortunately, due to several reasons they turned out to be completely ineffective.

For example, Glovo and Just Eat began to provide their workers with personal protection equipment only after one month after the beginning of the lockdown. Moreover, Deliveroo and UberEats reimburse 25 euro per person each month which is clearly insufficient to pay gloves and masks for 30 days. 

Some other independent restaurants had to find a way to protect their employees while taking into account their low income. As Monica, a rider from Rome, told us, her employer provides low-quality masks, and she ends up using masks bought by her family. As a consequence, when the employers cannot afford to buy the right kind of masks, riders’ right not to spend part of their incomes for essential work equipment is ignored.

Very often during the past weeks riders had to look for solutions by themselves. Some decided to only work during the day when orders are very essential. As a result, the number of deliveries decreased and the risk increased due to long lines they stand on to keep 1m distance before getting what they have to deliver from companies.

To avoid direct contact among people, AssoDelivery companies also separate restaurants’ kitchens from the place where riders collect the packages.

To emphasize an efficient measure has been implemented called contactless delivery. According to this new measure, the packages have to be left out of the door, riders do not have to touch anybody and the signature for the receipt is not required anymore. Even though riders know exactly how to behave after more than two months of practice, people sometimes do not seem to know the importance of contactless delivery. As Monica A. affirmed: ‘’Sometimes people never worry about distance and they invite me into their houses, or even let their children open the door without masks’’. 

In addition, new proposals which have been put in order to guarantee transparency between restaurants and people ordering are not yet implemented. For example, the QR code could be put on packages allowing to verify that the order has been made safely but it has not yet started working. Similarly, the only rules guaranteed by employers and companies are extremely insufficient to guarantee riders’ health.

To conclude, delivery services have allowed many restaurants to continue working and earning their income, but this is happening at the expense of riders’ health – many riders are already infected. The economic difficulties that restaurant owners are experiencing must not be underestimated, but a balance between economic resources and health protection has to be found as soon as possible. 

As long as companies continue not to provide the necessary protections for riders, we should again ask ourselves if it is a good idea to have riders bringing us dinner home during a global pandemic.

Elena Potitò and Agnese Zoffoli


Decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri, 11st March, 2020

FIPE Predictions about Food Industry

Cura Italia Decree

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