What is it like to be a Postmates Courier driver in San Francisco?

Update: See my updated post from November 2015 here


I have been a Postmates Delivery driver or as Postmates calls us, a Courier, for the past 5 weeks.  I drive my car in San Francisco dropping off stuff to the time and money conscious residents of this great city by the bay.

So what is Postmates?

From Google Images
Postmates.  As seen from Google Images.   ET phone home!!

Ultimately you are paying for a delivery service.  Billed as: “Everyone’s favorite delivery service”  You do not have to leave your house and you can get practically anything delivered to you.  Most (over 90% of the deliveries I have had) are delivering people food.  One of the best, easiest and profitable deliveries I had was picking up a pack of Marlboro Lights from the shell gas station in Potrero in dropping them off to a lady in the Dogpatch.  Hey, I understand the calling for a smoke break at 11pm.   Win – Win.  Essentially,  what I have learned is that people in SF have a ton of money and are lazy. And completely willing to pay people like me to bring them their food.

I drive my own car and don’t ride a bicycle like some other couriers (and the cool dude on the Postmates logo).  I only work weeknights and weekends.  I have a day job in an office and have been a courier as a side job to make some extra cash since SF is so damn expensive.

So what?   Well, I have the numbers to back up my claims.  I have 66 deliveries and $1,044.48 in earnings from my time thus far with Postmates.  Average calculated payout being $15.83. Is that worth it?   Bit skewed towards the first couple weeks.  Worked a few nights initially that was blowing up.  Now I lately have been doing about one to three deliveries a day.  The volume and money is not there anymore.  Either that or I am jaded.  The very first day I worked I made $86.  This was working a day where I got 100% commission and that the surge / blitz pricing was in effect (details below).  Sadly, those days are gone.

Being a Courier

Ready to work!
Ready to work!

The company has grown tremendously since I have been working as a driver.  With some negative side effects and reduced earnings as a courier since I started.  One of my first deliveries was a $20 commission fee to me for delivering two burritos.  Sadly that great pay day has dwindled.

Beginning, the Postmates offices were off Valencia and 16th street in the Mission and now they have a huge operations office in Soma off Townsend street with the green Postmates color and the ET looking delivery driver logo.

To become a courier, you have to sign up on their site (link).  Process requires a quick application.  Then you get an e-mail within a couple of days asking you to come in for orientation.  Orientation is an hour and honestly a waste of time.  You go over the app and what you have to do to be a driver.  Postmates community managers then tell you about the employment status, which is one of independent contractor and not employee.  Meaning you work and are paid per delivery/job not by the hour.  This is a tax code thing and works in the Postmates favor as I will point out given the pay is quite low on a per job basis.

I think the whole onboarding and orientation process is to weed out the folks who are not serious and create some sort of commitment on the driver part.  Which is a good sales and commitment tactic on the Postmates part, but the time can be better utilized.  I mean Instacart has youtube introductory videos.

After Orientation is on boarding, assuming you get called back for that.  But as long as you agree to be an independent contractor and sign some other forms, you are good to go I would assume.  Onboarding is a bit more worthwhile.  You go over the app and process more in detail along with details on jobs and other side notes such as payments.  Payments are made with a prepaid debit card called a PEX card.  Receipts are scanned in via photo on your iPhone.  Oh, you have to have an iPhone to be a courier.  If you don’t have one, don’t worry! Postmates will lease you an iPhone 4 for $100!  What a deal.  You also have to provide proof of insurance if you are driving or if you’re a bike courier, show them your bike to get that approved.  (you’ll need a basket to hold your goods).  You have to download the special courier App.  After the session you get a green bag to hold you items on pick ups and you are ready to make some money!  Orientation is a good overview, but like any job, the real learning comes from on the job working.   Like knowing that Japanese restaurants are very slow and that there is no parking in San Francisco.  But you already knew that and that’s why you’re using the app to have me deliver your La Taqueria tacos.

The Good.

Money.  The claim and call of money is why anyone would want to work for Postmates.  Best way to make money is through tips or blitz pricing.

The payout Structure is commission /delivery based.  Postmates pays couriers 80% of the delivery fee charged the customer.  The delivery fee, my presumption, is solely on delivery distance.  The minimum fee to a driver is $5.60 or a $7 delivery charge to the customer.  Within a few blocks it is $5.60 upwards to about a $11 payout to the driver.  I don’t know the inside formula on that one.    Couriers are independent contractors so you are paid by delivery.  No delivery.  No money.  Lately this has  been lagging and the job orders have been lacking.  I think due to a increased pool of drivers as blitz pricing has bee lagging lately too.

What is Blitz Pricing?

Blitz Pricing is Postmates’ version of surge pricing on Uber.  When demand for deliveries is greater than the couriers available its surging or blitzing and higher payouts are in effect.  Postmates charges a premium blitz fee to the customer during this time.  Both Postmates and the courier make extra during this.  I have seen blitz payouts from 1.25 to 2.5 X the normal delivery fee.  Blitz tends to occur at night during the dinner delivery hours or on the weekends during brunch time (10 to noonish) and during the dinner rush.     Blitz is where the money is made.  My best payout was a 2X blitz delivery from the Haight to the border of San Francisco (essentially Daly city) and 6 mile one way trip for a $25 delivery fee.   Add on a tip to that and your golden.  Not too bad for less than an hour’s work.
This is a service industry job and tipping is allowed / encouraged.  Without it, it would not make any sense to be a Postmate courier in San Francisco.
So the only way to make more money is to make more deliveries.

The People

The work is interesting and I have my shares of stories.  I thought I knew the streets of SF before, but I know them a lot better now.   I also know some cool spots after visiting them  I also know where I will not be going  That BBQ spot in the height.  That’s you.   “oh, you’re the Postmates guy”  said rudely upon entering.  Well, look, were all trying to make some dough here in this yuppie town.

The people are what make it the deliveries interesting.  There are some downright lazy people in SF.  There are also some people willing to spend a lot of money for food.  $20 to deliver a burrito?  You have to be out of your mind to pay that delivery fee anywhere else, but the residents in SF are paying it.

Or the middle aged woman probably some sort of senior executive or manager at an SF startup ordering six bottles of white wine from Safeway to be delivered to her house party just down the way in SOMA.  Seriously folks, learn how to use your apartment complex buzzer system if you are going to order delivery.  Do not make me use a call box, key code and then have to call to verify on my cell phone.  Get your systems in order.

Some of the people that use the service are not the easiest on the eyes to say the least and I can understand where this service would be a lifesaver for them.
In part I do mean physical presences and look, but also the intangible element that cannot be fully appreciated until you get out on the streets and start knocking on doors.  Like the monday night delivery of a pint of rainbow ice cream flavor peanut butter chocolate chuck to the middle aged fat woman on the fifth floor of the apartment in Soma by the 280.

The two pizza delivery with bottle of Mexican coke and a side salad (really you are going to eat the salad?) from pizzeria delfina in the mission to the 20 something fat girl living three blocks away from pizzeria delfina.  I understand the desire to not want to go out to be seen ordering and then subsequently eatly two pizzas with a bottle of real coke, but you are perpetuating your lifestyle with these choices.

Jobs with parking or drive thrus are great.  McDonalds is a great pick up.  Downside is no tipping.  The people who order McDonalds don’t tend to tip.  Unless it is late at night after 1am and they are high.  Then they might be more generous.  People who order from nice restaurants tip better.  Tacolicious.  Best tips from customers from there. If you are paying for $6 tacos, what’s a few bucks to you driver?

The bad and the ugly

Orders you do not want.  Grocery Store orders.  Seriously lady, you put your two weeks of shopping down at Trader Joe’s and expect someone to pick it up?  For a $5.60 service fee?    Who even eats brussel sprouts?  You live two blocks away from the Trader Joe’s.  Go get it yourself!  Also you are tyring to orderr 20 items at Safeway at 6pm on a Sunday.  The busiest time with a line 10 people deep and expect someone to pick that up?  This isn’t Instacart!  I am not picking up your weekly groceries for $6.

The best jobs are jobs where the food will be ready when you are there.  Job support will place the order in advance and all you have to do is double park and pray the SFMTA doesn’t ticket you while you run in and get the food.  And hopefully are not delayed because the restaurant did not estimate the timing right (Looking at you Blowfish Sushi).  You are really at the mercy of the restaurants at times.  You do not want jobs where you have to place the order yourself BS.    For $6?  GTFO.   I am not waiting for 30 minutes for the food for a lousy $6 to then take 15 minutes to deliver it.

Scheduling.  Scheduling is BS in my opinion.  Postmates encourages (read almost reauires) you to be scheduled or on  asset time slot in order to get priority and get better pickings at jobs. But I have not seen a difference lately.  Also, Postmates managers will send out an email and call if do not log in for shift.  Sounds like a manager calling an employee rather than letting an independent contractor work, but I am not an employment attorney.

Drinks are not fun to deliver.  I have spilled a few and have had to buy new fountain drinks.  But that is the price you pay for someone cutting you off on Van Ness.

The no show.  Second week on the job surge and blitz pricing was in effect and I continued to work .  No one home.  Called Job support. Was told to wait 30 minutes for the dude in case he appeared.  F That!  I am not going to wait 30 minutes form some no show!  After a bit of complaining and job support realizing that the guy was not going to show,  I got to keep the burrito and went home.

The real bummer given that Couriers are paid by delivery is when job orders get cancelled.  I have had at least one order a week  (about 1 in 10 orders accepted get cancelled.  No reason is given just the order disappears.

On Saturday night I had a great payout on a deliver.  $32 during a surge pricing of 2.5X of delivery fees.  $32 to pick up fried chicken!  Are you nuts!! However this was too good to be true and the order was cancelled as it was going to take 45 minutes to make the damn chicken.  Screw you, I want my $32!!

So what? 

Like a lot of things in life, if you get on early and can ride the good times early, things will be great.  But as Postmates has improved in the past 4-6 weeks for customers with improved access and more couriers, this has hurt couriers like me.  The minimum delivery fee to make is $5.60 on a non surging time.  $5.60 and if there is no tip, then that is about $5.60 per hour.   There are also a lot fewer jobs.  I am not sure why, but I do know that when I started my app was blowing up every minute for a delivery.  Now I can go 20 minutes without a delivery.

Postmates’  added tagline is:
“Time is money.  We give you something priceless: time.  Delivery Fees start at $5.  An hour of your time is worth way more than that.”

Well $15/ hour on a non blitz time worth it to you?  Well, as a driver I am going to need more than $15 an hour.   Hell, Minimum wage in SF is $10.74 and you also get health benefits.  Unless there are more jobs or better pricing, I am going to hang up my Postmates cap for a while.
Time to get to work.  I have new Job order notifications!!



3 thoughts on “What is it like to be a Postmates Courier driver in San Francisco?

  1. Excellent analysis Adam B.

    I think my favorite delivery was delivering some chicken fettuccine alfredo to the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre and handing a box of food to a topless stripper.

    I think there is something to be said about feeling like a second class citizen when I’m on Postmates. I’ve gotten that off-hand comment “oh you’re the postmates guy” more than a few times. Okay? Am I a sub-human?

    I was going to try things out one weekend after I get back from Chicago to see if the situation improved with jobs. It hasn’t been booming like when I started (too many couriers I think).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *