Tired of driving for Uber and Lyft and want to try something that doesn’t involve shuttling around people? You might be interested in Caviar, a food delivery service. Senior RSG contributor Dash Bridges shares what it’s like to become a Caviar courier, from the sign up process to the payouts.
In the past couple of years I’ve tried a variety of different delivery services, including DoorDash, Postmates, Instacart, Uber Eats, and Eaze. Like finding hair ties in my daughters’ bedroom, there’s always more. This month the RSG suggested I try another delivery service, Caviar and become a Caviar courier.
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Caviar is part of Square, the company that creates the nifty smartphone plug-in credit card sliders vendors use at arts festivals. They also make the rotating terminals that coffee shops use so you can finger-sign your receipt. The service describes itself as, “an easy way to order food from the best local restaurants in cities across the U.S.”
Sound familiar? It’s available in roughly 16 metropolitan areas across the US, not nearly as widespread as some of its competitors. Prior to contracting for Caviar, my impression was that the service leaned towards catering and larger-scale orders. I figured I’d deliver twenty-entrée meals to large office buildings. That was my thought going in. Here’s what actually happened.
Becoming a Caviar Courier
You save time searching for the Caviar sign up link by signing up for Caviar here, and the sign up process is simple.
I completed the now-routine process, including my name, birthdate, metro area, etc.
Next, I was texted a link to a Remote Courier Orientation. The link offered short instructional videos followed by basic A/B questions about the topic. Questions included, “Can you still receive orders if you are not online?” and “If you accept an order, are you obligated to complete it?” There were a couple of brief essay questions as well, including, “In the event that my vehicle breaks down in the middle of delivering an order, my plan is to…”
Thanks to my college education and considerable experience in this field, I was able to adequately explain my philosophy on this customer service issue, first citing the works of….just kidding, I said, “contact live support and the customer about a possible delay.” I was able to complete the training videos over a series of stoplights during a DoorDash shift. (Note: RSG recommends you do this in the safety of your own home, not at stoplights!)
Next, I was provided a copy of the Courier Independent Contractor Agreement, promptly didn’t read it, and signed/dated it. For payment options, I could set up my traditional bank account for weekly payments, or I could get money sent to a debit card. Caviar provides this option via the Cash App, Square’s version of Venmo/PayPal. Corporate synergy in action! And yes, it’s the same Cash App advertised ad nauseum on podcasts, “$5 goes to you, $5 goes to charity…”
Similar to my Instacart experience, Caviar asked me to verify a thermal bag, and if I’d like to borrow one. (Note to self: They specifically said ‘borrow’. Am I going to have to give it back?) I readily agreed because I’d prefer to pick up Caviar orders in Caviar bags. I like to rep the colors whenever possible. A few days later I received a HUGE bag that I can’t really use except for pizzas. Here it is compared to my provided DD and PM bags:
After receiving the bag, I submitted my vehicle insurance information and accepted a conditional offer to start driving, conditional pending a standard background check. As expected, the background check revealed I’m boring, and I was cleared to drive. Once authorized, Caviar sent links to the actual Courier driver app, as well as walkthrough videos and support center info. Typical to most of my onboardings, I never spoke to nor interacted with a human being during the process.
Accepting Shifts and Delivering with Caviar
As far as I could tell, I didn’t need to schedule any shifts. I simply moved the slider to ONLINE and I was live. I had become a Caviar courier! Let’s go earn some money!
As I noted before, Caviar doesn’t have a particularly large footprint, even in Silicon Valley. I had to drive up the Peninsula to a location where I could reasonably expect an order. I drove to Palo Alto and waited. Finally, I received my first order.
I clicked on the order notification and received instructions to go to Sancho’s Taqueria. The app showed the restaurant address, the neighborhood of the delivery, and a highly simplified map of the distance between the two. It also showed me my expected earnings ($7.50), which included my base pay ($5.67), peak pay extra ($0.34), and (not shown) an expected/already submitted tip of $1.49. I LOVE the transparent breakdown of my earnings.
Immediately I found the phrasing of ‘expected earnings’ questionable. Am I going to make $7.50 or not? If it’s base pay + tips later, ok. If you already know the customer tipped, tell me!
At the bottom, I held the blue stripe for about two seconds to confirm the order.
Upon creating the directions via a hyperlink to Google Maps, I drove the short distance to the restaurant.
Here’s one way that the Caviar process differs from the others. I don’t go in there and say, “Hi, I have an order for ‘X’”, I actually call out the number, “I’m with Caviar for #46481”. Is it better? Is it worse? Neither. Just unique.
Upon pickup I received a notification about delivery instructions.
I Google mapped to the locations and arrived at 777 Hamilton Avenue. But…where’s 777? I saw 775 on the corner, but no 777. I called the customer, “Hey, I’m outside 775. Is this a duplex?”
“What? I’m at a big apartment complex. I’m in the nearest building and I’ll come down when you arrive.”
“I’m on a residential street with single-family homes.”
“Are you at the 777 Hamilton Apartments?”
“I’m at….oh, I’m at 777 Hamilton Ave.”
“I’m at these new apartments and I’m not from around here, so I can’t really tell you where I am.”
GAH! The app link to the address didn’t match the ACTUAL address. This happens from time to time on DoorDash, though usually with restaurants. Bummer that it happened on my very first Caviar order. I eventually figured it out and drove an additional 10 minutes to the correct address. The remainder of the dropoff finished without a hitch.
Ten minutes later, I received my second order.
This order also highlighted my expected earnings ($9.55), which would include base pay ($7.13) plus Peak Pay ($0.49) and a tip. I completed this second order and received this notification
After a couple of hours of light volume, I finished up with a rather large order from Teaspoon. Again, the upside with expected earnings was a lucrative $15.47, although only $9.40 was guaranteed.
Once completed, I signed out.
Later that night, Caviar sent an email asking about my shift, and provided a link for me to log in and comment on my day.
How Much Money Did I Make with Caviar?
The next morning, I reviewed my earnings.
Ah! Exactly what I was concerned about. The Expected Earnings teased upon order acceptance weren’t always realized.
Here’s the problem. While there might be a precedent for customer tip amounts, it’s not guaranteed and I don’t appreciate Caviar overselling my earning potential! Furthermore, looking at this from the corporate perspective, isn’t it risky to list each individual’s tip amount? If a driver knows they got stiffed on a seven-drink, 17-minutes away order the previous night, what happens if the same customer orders again tomorrow? Isn’t there at least a small chance a driver would make a snide comment, or worse, upon a future delivery? I wonder about these things.
First day earnings:
4.1 hours on the clock
2.5 hours on delivery
$58.16 total earned
Yikes. Not a great first day. But I have more shifts to do, and at different times of day. Maybe I’ll find my niche and make this a worthwhile experience. I’ll keep working at it and report back.
Interested in becoming a Caviar courier? Sign up to drive with Caviar here!
Readers, do you have questions for Dash about his Caviar experience? Let us know in the comments below!
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-Dash @ RSG