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The food delivery race harms riders and businesses

The whole affair feeds into the wider issue of rider welfare

Careem food delivery Dubai Supplied
Careem has extended its Dirhams for Delays campaign until the end of July, suggesting it has had a positive effect on the bottom line

We live in an impatient society. Everyone wants everything now; later is unacceptable.

It’s this widely held belief that underpins “Dirhams for Delays” – ride firm Careem’s latest advertising campaign for its food delivery service.

It’s a simple concept: for every minute your food is delayed past the estimated delivery time, you get a dirham back.  

Guaranteed speedy delivery is a popular marketing ploy, going as far back as 1973 when Domino’s Pizza introduced its 30-minute promise in the US.

However, as with Domino’s, which discontinued the promise in 1993 due to legal concerns, Careem’s campaign has faced criticism from those who say it risks rider safety.

Fellow food delivery apps Talabat and Deliveroo have spoken out publicly, saying it sends the wrong message.

Delivery riders already have one of the most challenging jobs going, working under pressure from both restaurants and customers to deliver food in a correct and timely manner while navigating Dubai’s traffic.

Putting more pressure on them to meet strict deadlines will only make it harder, lead to drivers’ taking more risks, and potentially endangering their lives further.  

For its part, Careem says that riders cannot see the estimated delivery time and are not incentivised to drive faster. Careem pays for any delays, it says, not its “captains”.

The fact that Careem has felt compelled to make this an important part of its campaign messaging suggests there has been enough of a backlash for it to sit up and take notice.

However, it has extended its campaign until the end of July, which suggests it has also had a positive effect on the bottom line. 

In such a crowded marketplace, with each aggregator trying to win the loyalty of a notoriously fickle customer base – a recent UAE survey found 91 percent of people said they are less loyal to brands than they were two years ago – any way to differentiate oneself and stand out from the crowd is viewed as a winner. 

Space to rest

But the whole affair feeds into the wider issue of rider welfare with which the food and beverage industry is grappling.

A circular released by the Department of Economy and Tourism made it mandatory for restaurants to offer rest spaces for delivery riders over summer.

Considering the conditions these riders have to work in, this is the minimum we can offer them.

Yet this has not been well received by all food and beverage operators. The number of restaurateurs up in arms about “not having the room” to accommodate them is baffling.

I understand that space in Dubai is at a premium, but if these riders are an important part of your operations (or 100 percent of it if you’re a cloud kitchen), not having the proper facilities to look after them is unacceptable. 

Either fix the problem or stop accepting so many orders that it results in the drivers sitting outside in 50-degree heat while waiting to service customers and make money.

I have been part of a sub-committee of the UAE Restaurants Group with a focus on rider safety, and we’ve had numerous fruitful calls with government bodies that are keen to take action.

This year we have seen Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority begin to construct rest stops for food delivery riders that allow them to rest and refresh themselves. 

It is a good first step but, ultimately, riders need more foundational improvements, such as better pay.

The question is where is the money going to come from? The UAE population has already been conditioned into expecting low delivery fees. I rarely see a delivery fee higher than AED7 and very often it is free. Compare that with the UK or US, where customers will regularly pay $5 (AED18) or more.

Restaurants certainly do not want to pay for it. They are already floundering under commissions as high as 35 percent with some delivery platforms and cannot afford any extra expense.

Let’s face it – aggregators will not do it off their own back. If only they could get behind a marketing campaign that promoted the wellbeing of their employees as strongly as one that on the speed of their service. 

With the latest delivery platform to join the rat race, Cari, recalling Domino’s of old by calling itself “the real 30 minutes food delivery app”, that seems unlikely. 

Simon Ritchie is communications director at Yolk Brands in Dubai and former editor of a leading Middle East hospitality title

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