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caption: Dan Crookston is the owner of Mean Sandwich in Ballard.
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Dan Crookston is the owner of Mean Sandwich in Ballard.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Restaurant delivery drivers try to weather the COVID-19 storm

Carey Purnell is a restaurant delivery driver in the Seattle area for Uber Eats.

She’s also homeless and worried about getting COVID-19, in part because she doesn’t have health insurance.

Purnell said her Uber Eats income barely covers the nightly bill at an extended stay motel.

“And sometimes people have given me some money," Purnell said. “Everybody's out there saying 'stay home, stay safe.' Meanwhile people like me have no choice. I have no choice unless I want to live on the street."

App delivery companies like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub are trying to keep everyone safe. They encourage the use of gloves, sanitizers and frequent hand washing. Most are offering some sort of compensation for up to two weeks if a driver gets the virus.

But Purnell said she would like to see additional pay and benefits to help drivers like her weather the crisis.

caption: Carey Purnell is a restaurant delivery driver in the Seattle area for Uber Eats. She's also homeless.
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Carey Purnell is a restaurant delivery driver in the Seattle area for Uber Eats. She's also homeless.
Credit: Carey Purnell

Gabriel Camarillo, who was making a run to McDonalds for a DoorDash customer, said he’s worried about how his body will handle the virus.

“I have Psoriasis, which is an autoimmune disease. So I’m wearing double gloves for everything,” Camarillo said.

But keeping his distance is complicated.

“Every restaurant I pick up I have to get close to people like employees, other drivers picking up, or other people just getting to-go orders,” he said.

Camarillo lives with his fiancé in SeaTac. He is working towards a college degree in Business Administration. He had been making enough to pay the bills as a rideshare driver. But that income dried up after the coronavirus hit, so he started doing restaurant deliveries.

“Luckily, we have April’s rent, so right now I am really just trying to hustle to get May’s rent so I can just isolate myself on my own and just chill while things are crazy,” Camarillo said.

None of the delivery App companies agreed to be interviewed for this story. But in a March 19 investor call, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said they’ve seen a big spike in business with many more restaurants signing up for the service.

“Even in Seattle, a community that has been hit really hard, the business is still growing,” Khosrowshahi said

And some drivers back that up. Shawn Lass says he’s making more money during the crisis than he was before.

“What I’m seeing really is orders are up because people are home, and there’s no traffic. So I can get done double or triple the number of orders per hour,” Lass said.

Lass also said his Seattle-area customers are being generous and his tips are up .

The apps have also kept some Seattle restaurants alive, at least for awhile.

Dan Crookston runs Mean Sandwich in Ballard. Last week Crookston said he had to lay off most of his staff due to the lockdowns. But he was still offering takeout and delivery.

“I would say that the apps are making up about 70% of our business today. But just a week ago the apps were making up about 30%of our business,” Crookston said.

The apps take around 30% off the top of an order, which cuts into slim profit margins. But last week, Crookston was still urging people to consider ordering delivery first.

"My message to people is to stay home. Order online. Don’t go out unless you have to,” Crookston said.

This week Dan Crookston decided to take his own advice. He’s shut the sandwich shop down entirely to keep his staff and his own family safe.