Harry here. If all you’ve ever done is rideshare, you could be missing out on a whole different experience with delivery. Today, senior RSG contributor Christian Perea talks about his recent experience signing up for the food delivery company Caviar and gives us a behind the scenes look at his first few deliveries.
We’ve talked a lot on the blog about the importance of diversifying your income with other rideshare services. But over the past year, a lot of that focus has shifted to delivery companies. Delivery is a great option for drivers because it is a different experience and a different industry than rideshare. And although the space is equally crowded with companies that you can work for, today I want to talk about one that’s been flying under the radar: Caviar.
I recently signed up to do Caviar delivery in San Francisco to see what the company was like and how they would stack up with the competition. There is no doubt that a lot has changed on DoorDash and Postmates over the last year for drivers, and many say these changes have been for the worse. It seems like these two companies are running into a lot of the same same pitfalls as Uber and Lyft with lower pay, too many couriers and so forth. But as it turns out, not every delivery company is the same.
What is Caviar?
Caviar is a delivery app operating in over a dozen markets that curates the top restaurants in a local area for delivery. It is similar to other platforms in that customers can order food on-demand from restaurants within their city. Caviar delivery tends to focus on higher end restaurants that they can develop a seamless partnership with, which allows them to fulfill orders faster.
Caviar started as an on-demand delivery startup and was acquired by Square in 2014. Once Square IPO’d, Caviar by default became one of the few on-demand apps that operates within the scrutiny of a publicly traded company. Square later acquired FastBite and added its operations as a feature of Caviar. In many ways, Caviar is Square’s play with restaurants to provide end-to-end services for payment processing, invoicing, inventory, and food delivery. Think payment-to-plate.
On the driver’s side, couriers can deliver using their personal vehicles, motorcycles, scooters, or bikes. Caviar has some unique features that make it stand out against the rest of the crowd in the delivery and rideshare space. All of these differences are geared to make their platform better for couriers and customers.
How Is Caviar Different?
Here are the key differences that we found between Caviar and other delivery platforms:
- There is no rating system. Drivers, you may now rejoice!
- Couriers are paid on an “effort-based” algorithm (don’t worry, we’ll be putting this to the test!).
- There is now in-app tipping on Caviar.
- The details of your order (including how much you will be paid) are available before you accept the order. And they will not punish you for a low acceptance rate.
- No carrying around a Pex card or cash. You only work with partner restaurants where you are expected by the staff. You confirm a secret code (kind of like James Bond but for delivery) and they hand you the food. That’s it.
- Their delivery areas are generally smaller, and I found that this results in less deadhead miles.
- Parking Ticket Reimbursement Program (!).
The overarching theme with Caviar delivery is that they have built a system around making things less stressful for their couriers. It seems like they are really trying to address a lot of the pain points that couriers face while out doing deliveries with this set-up.
As a customer, sure it’s nice to be able to order from any restaurant on the face of the planet, but when the courier shows up and the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays or only takes cash and you have to cancel the order, who do you think eats that cost? The courier. That creates a poor experience for all parties involved, but as a courier, it’s the little things that will really start to add up over time. It’s nice that Caviar has some courier-friendly features and only works with partner restaurants since that means no menacing looks, no wasted time and potentially a smoother pick-up process.
Caviar Delivery Signup Process
The signup process is actually pretty easy and it’s a lot shorter than other services that I’ve signed up for in the past. You’ll need to go here to create an account and enter in all of your pertinent information. Once you submit the form, you should receive an email inviting you to an orientation. Mine showed up within a few minutes. Then all you need to do is reply back and select a time.
When you go to the orientation, you fill out some more forms on your phone to authorize a background check, give them your bank information so you can get paid, and learn how to use the app. Make sure you bring a photo ID, the smartphone you plan to use, a copy of your vehicle insurance policy, license plate number (if driving) or a picture of your bike (if biking).
The sign-up process may be slightly different in some places, but Caviar support says that most of the major steps are the same. If you have trouble figuring it out, you can simply respond to any email from Caviar and it will be routed directly to the local support handle for that city.
My Experience At Caviar’s Courier Orientation
A few days after confirming my orientation date, I headed over to their orientation location, which is Square’s global headquarters in San Francisco (Caviar operates locally out of that office). When I arrived in the lobby, there were already some applicants waiting for orientation and a cool display of Square’s activity throughout the USA.
Square’s offices are actually located one floor above Uber’s Global Headquarters, so I made extra sure to wear my 1,000 ride Lyft jacket to maximize awkward elevator moments 😉 If you happen to stop on the Uber floor, the elevator door opens to reveal a dark corridor that is eerily similar to the interior decorating of the the Death Star. Otherwise, you’ll go up an extra floor to Square’s office which is bright and well-lit with nice colors.
The orientation was scheduled for 10:30 am. At exactly that time, a Square employee named Kyle walked into the lobby and walked us over to a meeting room in the Square office with a projector and some Caviar delivery bags in the background. Kyle introduced himself and explained that he had done deliveries for Caviar in the past. We began the orientation by introducing ourselves and saying what our favorite food was (I chose chicken parm).
After introductions, everyone filled out a form to authorize our background checks, added any applicable information around our vehicles, and provided bank information for the inevitable 1099. Typical on-boarding stuff. We then delved into the meat and potatoes of the Caviar delivery orientation. Here is what we covered:
- Coverage Area: Kyle showed us the coverage area for San Francisco, which was actually pretty small compared to other services. As a driver, I actually prefer this since it means less deadheading. I don’t want to end-up driving 15 miles outside of the city to earn $10 or $15 and then drive back empty handed. Most of Caviar’s coverage areas in San Francisco seem to focus on areas of high population and restaurant density, so think big urban areas. In other cities, it should be the same.
- Income: From what I gathered it seemed like the hourly wage could vary from $10 to $30 but would average between $15 and $20 per hour. The pay structure is not very transparent to drivers but is claimed to be based off of an effort-based “algorithm” that assigns pay by distance, time, and size of the order. Don’t worry, we are gonna test that 😉
- Tipping: When asked about tipping, Kyle said that there was no tipping feature in the app, but couriers could accept cash tips. There were several Uber driver veterans in the room and they seemed visibly uncomfortable hearing that statement. Even if the pay model is more than competitors, nobody trusts it without real verification, and I wasn’t going to find out until I actually did some deliveries. Update 12/14/16: Caviar now has a tipping function built into their app for Couriers. So expect to get tips from their app now.
- Scheduling; Caviar has a scheduling system where you reserve certain days and hours to work. Reserving your hours should give you priority for receiving orders. The schedule will also display the hours in which courier pay is increased or boosted throughout the week. One cool thing about this feature is that you don’t have to be in a surge zone to get bonus pay. You just get it. You can also see where many couriers have scheduled and avoid logging on when it is too crowded. You do not need to be scheduled to login and take orders, though. If you are a courier you can log on at any time as long as you are in the delivery area.
- When/Where to drive: Kyle showed us a graph showing the relative volume of orders by time and day. As one might expect, the most popular times are lunch and dinner with very few orders at breakfast. Orders spike on the weekends and Sunday is their busiest day in San Francisco. We were also shown a heat map juxtaposed on Caviar’s partner restaurants to show that the vast majority of activity occurs in the Mission, FiDi, SOMA, and Marina. No surprise there.
- You Need a Hot/Cold Delivery Bag: You will need to have a Hot/Cold delivery bag in order to operate on Caviar. It cannot display the logo of another delivery company, and you can buy a Caviar branded bag at the orientation for between $5 and $25. They are very orange. You can also supply your own bags if you already have one (or don’t like orange). In the interest of saving money I decided to “borrow” a bag and ice cooler from my roommate (thanks Tony!).
My Impression: When I left orientation everything seemed pretty simple as far as getting setup and operating as a Courier. I still wasn’t sure of what to make of an effort-based pay scale and the no-tipping language though. It all sounded nice in theory; it would actually be a lot less stressful to not worry about tipping and trust I was getting paid fairly.
(Update 12/14/16: Caviar has now added a tipping feature and Couriers will begin receiving tips)
However, after two years of rideshare I was also really skeptical and thought it could all be a bunch of sketchy corporate marketing. I also realized that this probably turns off a lot of potential couriers who have driven for Uber in the past. Aside from that, it was professional, straight to the point, and pleasant. Kyle made sure to stick around and answer everyone’s questions at the end, so that was professional of him too.
My First Shift As A Caviar Delivery Driver
After a few hours my background check cleared, and I was approved to be a courier. I signed up for my first shift within the Caviar Courier app a few days ahead of time and then put together some hot and cold bags. Caviar states that about half of Couriers are approved within a few hours while others take a few days for the background check process to clear via Checkr.
Initially, I drove into the delivery area and was surprised to get an order pretty quickly at Turtle Top in SOMA. The delivery app included special instructions on parking and warned me that most of the contents from that merchant tend to be soup so I should prepare accordingly. That was a pretty cool feature we haven’t seen before on other delivery apps we’ve tested, but it makes a lot of sense.
When I went into the restaurant, I gave them the order code and the food was already ready to go. I hopped back in my ride and started to make my way through traffic to the drop-off location, which was in a nice high rise. After I got into the building I dropped off the order, and my first order was complete.
I did end up spending a lot of time in traffic, though, since the high rise was right next to the Bay Bridge and I had a lot of trouble finding a place to park. I quickly learned that if you are in a car, it is really important to not default to punching your phone screen when you get a request. It took me a long time to fulfill because I was in a car in downtown rush hour traffic. I decided to head to an area that was more friendly to cars and to more closely inspect the next orders details before accepting it. Orders like that would best be left to those on bikes, scooters, and motorcycles.
How Order Flow Works On Caviar
When you receive a request, you will get a loud notification that gives you two minutes to either accept or reject an order. The order request will tell you how much you will be paid for completing the order, where the pickup location is, and the general neighborhood of where the drop-off location is. It will also tell you the size and items of the order. Based off of that information you can either accept or reject the order.
I really liked that Caviar is upfront about the orders before you accept them because delivery in general can be nuanced based off of your cargo capacity, time, and parking availability. The next request I got was easy and paid more than a Lyft or Uber ride would pay me for the same time and distance even without Caviar’s bonus pay.
Caviar Delivery Pickup Process: Getting to The Restaurant
Upon accepting an order, you can click on the “Delivery Details” within the courier app and it will display your secret code to give to the restaurant, its address, and any other special instructions like where to park or what to expect when you get there. For my next order, I drove to Fresca, which was some sort of hip Peruvian restaurant and found some parking. When I walked into the restaurant I confirmed I was at the pickup location. Once I confirmed arrival, I checked off the item list to make sure everything ordered was correct and began to navigate towards the customer delivery location.
One thing worth mentioning is that of all the orders I did, I never spent more than 3 minutes in any given restaurant. Every time I arrived they had the food ready and packaged to go. Some even had Caviar branded bags for the delivery and it was really apparent that the restaurant/Caviar partnerships helped ensure a smooth pick-up process. This was a lot more efficient than the Postmates or Doordash experience where couriers have to often park, order the food themselves, pay with a credit card, wait for the food AND then make the delivery.
Caviar Delivery Drop-off Process: Delivering the Food
I left Fresca and began to navigate to the drop off location and reached it pretty quickly since traffic was light. Once I arrived, the requesting person was already outside waiting for me. One of the nice things about delivery is that when people are hungry they won’t make you wait since you have their food. If you arrive and the person is not there and unreachable you can contact job support to figure things out. If after ten minutes nobody claims their food, then you get to keep the order. You also still get paid for it.
Caviar’s Effort-Based Pay System: How Does It Stack Up?
Earlier I said that I left orientation a little skeptical about the “effort-based” pay model. So I decided I would compare the time and distance pay for two of my deliveries to UberX.
When I did a short delivery from Fresca, it took me 9 minutes and 2.4 miles to get to the drop-off location. Had I done a ride of similar time and distance on UberX, it would have paid out $6.74, but then would have been subjected to a 25% commission which would leave me with a total of $5.06 (as of 8/2/16 pricing) assuming there was no surge pricing.
In comparison, the same time and distance for this Caviar order had a base pay of $6.46 and a bonus of $1.29 for a total of $7.75. Caviar does not collect a commission directly from your pay so what you see is what you get. Caviar won that round by $2.70.
Round Two: My second trip with Caviar was 5.3 miles and took me 35 minutes to complete in San Francisco traffic. This trip paid me $19.94. There was no bonus pay for it.
Let’s see what Uber would have paid for the same time and distance:
$2.00 base + ($1.15/mile * 5.3 miles) + ($0.22/min * 35 minutes) = $15.80 Total Fare – 25% Uber Commission = $11.85 Total UberX Payout to Driver.
So Caviar won the round by paying out $8.09 more. We’ll obviously be doing more deliveries in the future, but so far so good.
Factors in Your Caviar Payout: According to Caviar, payouts are determined via a combination of the time, distance, order size, and other factors. So larger orders payout more while smaller orders may not. Further, it is really important to consider that if it takes too long to complete an order, you won’t receive any extra money. What you see is what you get on Caviar. So make sure to only accept orders that you can realistically complete. I did all of this in a car, but had I done these orders using a scooter or motorcycle, I would have made more than I would have doing rideshare. And I would have also had much lower vehicle operating costs.
In-App Dispatch Team
I only needed to contact Caviar’s support one time while doing my deliveries. If you click on the message icon in the bottom left of the app, you can send a message for support while on a delivery via SMS. When I contacted their support, it took less than a minute to get a response from a live person.
Parking Ticket Reimbursement Program
Caviar has a parking ticket reimbursement program in most markets. For every 100 deliveries you do, you are eligible to submit one parking ticket. You start off with a ticket credit and if you use it before your first 100 deliveries, you will get another credit when you hit 100. You cannot stack them for each 100 rides.
The program is different in each market, but here’s a sample of how it works in San Francisco.
I’ll Definitely Be Doing More Deliveries
From the orders I did, they paid out more than what I would have made given time and distance as an Uber or Lyft driver. It is a different game, though, and there will be a learning curve at first just like with any job. I found that a lot of the experience depends on analyzing your jobs’ locations before accepting them and making a decision based off of the details. You don’t get paid extra for taking longer, so the faster you can get the job done, the better for everyone.
Ops were seamless and smooth and there were literally no problems with restaurants/customers. Text messages to Caviar delivery support were answered in under a minute. The entire experience was mostly stress-free, with the exception of traffic and parking in tight areas. Even these were less stressful because wherever I parked my car, it was only there for a few moments due to the fast restaurant fulfillment. I also enjoyed driving around without passengers looking over my shoulder or forcing a conversation while I blasted my radio as loud as I wanted. I kind of felt like I got my car back.
Considering the pay and ease of experience, I am going to do some more runs, except this time on a scooter or motorcycle since the operations costs will be MUCH lower than Uber or Lyft and I will get more money. Look for a follow up article on pay, strategy, and how cool I look on a scooter in the near future.
If you would like to deliver with Caviar, you can signup using our link here.
Readers, what do you think of Caviar and would you drive for them?
-Christian @ RSG
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