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How to order takeout safely and ethically

How to order takeout safely and ethically


How to reduce the risks of your food delivery during the pandemic

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Illustration by Angie Wang

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, we’ve been advised to stay inside and to minimize human contact. One of the biggest challenges that creates is getting food. Many states and cities have restricted restaurants to takeout since dining out is no longer considered safe or responsible. However, ordering delivery is still a viable option.

There is little evidence to support that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can be transmitted through food or food packaging, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration (although, of course, nobody is absolutely sure). However, the risk can be much higher for delivery workers who have to travel and interact with people. 

During a pandemic like this one, there are always risks, but there are also ways to mitigate those risks. Here are some current good practices — both in terms of health and ethics — for getting takeout:

Practice Social Distancing

Avoid meeting the food courier in person. Several apps have added options to help limit in-person contact. Instacart rolled out a “Leave at My Door Delivery” option and Postmates has also started offering no-contact deliveries. Grubhub has a contact-free delivery option, which allows you to designate where the food should be left.

If those options aren’t available at your favorite takeout place, you can always request (in the delivery instructions or over the phone) to have the food left on your doorstep, in the lobby, or somewhere else.

Delivery workers are especially vulnerable to the virus, and they rely on that work for their livelihood

Throw Out the Packaging

The CDC says that there is a risk of getting the virus by coming into contact with a surface that has the virus on it. That’s why it’s best if you discard the packaging your takeout comes in as soon as possible and wash your hands straight after. Also, it’s probably good practice to avoid using the containers and utensils that the food came in (some experiments indicate that the virus could possibly remain viable on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic for up to three days) and use your own instead. 

And it’s always a good idea to disinfect your counters and tables before and after eating.

Don’t Forget to Wash Your Hands

You should always wash your hands before you eat, but it’s especially important now. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Tip Well

Photo: DoorDash

Delivery workers are especially vulnerable to the virus, and they rely on that work for their livelihood. It’s important that you tip, and if you are able to, tip generously. A 20 percent tip is normally the standard. Now, it’s a good idea to tip even more (if you can), especially if you have a large order or have ordered a drink as well.

Also, tip electronically, whether online, in the app, or over the phone. Avoid, if possible, giving the tip in cash because that involves contact with another person. If you absolutely have to use cash, wash your hands after handling it. If you’re filling out a receipt, use your own pen and then wash your hands after.

Support Local Businesses

It’s better to support a local or family-owned business since they are more likely to be hit harder by the effects of quarantine measures. Chinese restaurants have been struggling in particular, after misinformation and racism led people to avoid eating Chinese food. A smaller business also probably means that the workers are also coming into contact with fewer people.

Order Directly from the Restaurant, If Possible

It is always better to order directly from the restaurant, as third-party apps can charge commission fees.

Some of these delivery services have also engaged in unsavory practices. Grubhub, Seamless, and DoorDash were all found to be listing on their sites and apps businesses that they didn’t partner with. Grubhub was also caught setting up dummy websites to look like they come from local businesses, allegedly in order to intercept their orders and then charge those businesses a higher commission. That’s why it’s important to verify the contact information by running multiple searches and cross-checking the information against Yellow Pages, Whitepages, or the Better Business Bureau.

GrubHub is also having restaurants cover the costs of their $10 discount, as well as making those restaurants pay the same commission they would on a full-price order. Restaurants have to opt into this program, but to opt out they need to send in a form for each location, and there’s a two-day processing period.

If You’re Using a Third-Party App

If you have to order from an app but want to order ethically, pay attention to that particular service’s sick leave and benefits plan for their workers.

Postmates has set up a relief fund to help cover employee’s medical costs related to the pandemic. It will also provide two weeks of paid sick leave if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Instacart and DoorDash offer up to two weeks’ pay if a worker is placed under mandatory quarantine or diagnosed. Initially Instacart’s policy was only valid up to 30 days after March 9th, but they’ve since extended it through May 8th. Instacart also allows all in-store shoppers to accrue sick leave. Uber Eats provides financial assistance to drivers and delivery people who may be infected or exposed to the virus for up to 14 days.

Eater has published a list of food chains offering paid sick leave. Keep in mind that sick leave only applies to employees who tested positive for COVID-19 — these policies don’t include provisions for employees who have symptoms but weren’t able to get tested.

Several companies have been criticized for failing to adequately protect workers during the outbreak. Instacart workers went on strike on March 30th, asking for the company to expand its paid sick leave policy, add a $5 hazard payment for each order, and provide workers with protective supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Workers at Amazon and Whole Foods also went on strike to protest how their companies have handled the coronavirus outbreak.

Some apps are taking steps to support smaller businesses in the wake of the pandemic. Postmates has waived delivery fees for businesses in the Bay Area. Grubhub has deferred commission fees for certain independent restaurants. Uber Eats is waiving delivery fees for independent businesses and providing 300,000 free meals to first responders and health care workers in the US and Canada.

Leave a Good Rating

Gig workers’ performances are often judged by their ratings, which can have an impact on whether they get work, so it’s helpful to leave a good rating, and leave a positive review for your restaurant. It’s taking a hit these days, and if you want it to stay in business, a good review can make a difference.

Update March 31st, 6:26 PM ET: This article was updated to include information about Instacart, Amazon, and Whole Foods workers going on strike, as well as GrubHub having restaurants front the costs of its discount and Instacart extending its sick leave policy for workers who have tested positive for COVID-19.