Food delivery in the time of coronavirus

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WEDNESDAY, March 18 — While Michigan residents have been barred from dining rooms, delivery, drive-thru and carryout have been the only ways to enjoy meals from a restaurant. 

The expanding mitigation measures for coronavirus have switched up business-as-usual for Lansing’s delivery drivers.

But first, is it safe to order food for delivery amid the coronavirus outbreak? Amanda Darche, communication specialist with the Ingham County Health Department, said the safety of food delivery depends on whether everybody involved is closely following up-to-date guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and the state of Michigan.

“Because COVID-19 is a respiratory condition caused by a virus, it is not able to grow or reproduce on foods. The most effective way to protect yourself is to wash your hands frequently, and to follow social distancing strategies,” Darche said. “If you get delivery or takeout, maintain social distance and wash your hands both before and after your transaction. You can use sanitizer if soap and water are not immediately available. Hands should be washed thoroughly before eating, at least 20 seconds.”

Lansing resident Danny Shattuck, a driver for popular food delivery services Door Dash and Uber Eats, said the impact of coronavirus is having the opposite effect he anticipated. He’s not receiving as many orders as he did before the outbreak reached Michigan.

“I’ve only had four today. Usually, I have two to three every hour. It’s been like that all week,” Shattuck said.

Door Dash has implemented new policies to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Its app now has an option for no-contact delivery, where the driver will simply leave the delivery at the customer’s door. Shattuck said he has only had one customer so far choose that option. He added that the most popular restaurants include the likes of Bob Evans, McDonald’s and Taco Bell. Many chain restaurants have posted signs to their drive-thru windows, explaining the additional sanitation and preparation precautions.

Shattuck said Door Dash provided him with packages of hand sanitizer and gloves. He uses both frequently and avoids touching things as much as possible. He uses the hand sanitizer every time he exits and gets back into his car.

Shattuck believes downturn in orders is largely a result of students leaving campus and people stocking up on their own groceries. He primarily relies on delivery services for his income, but has since turned to freelance web design for supplemental cash. Shattuck said members of a Greater Lansing delivery driver Facebook group had similar experiences.

Lansing-based company MenuBubble has its own spin on food delivery, combining it with meal preparation. MenuBubble’s chefs prepare bulk meals and chill them in order for customers to reheat them at home. The service encourages customers to purchase in bulk, but options for single orders with instant delivery are also available.

MenuBubble’s CEO Malik Jackson said distribution has experienced a hit with Michigan State University closing due to the coronavirus, but is still working on ways to expand. Jackson hopes MenuBubble can eventually accept EBT.

Though Shattuck hasn’t experienced an uptick in work for Door Dash and Uber Eats, Lansing resident Laura Drotar, who works with online grocery delivery service Shipt, has had a lot of work to handle.

“There’s an absurd amount of orders, a lot more than usual. At first, Shipt was overwhelmed, but now drivers are doing their schedules a couple of days in advance,” Drotar said.

Drotar has had to inform many customers that their order could not be completed, due to a variety of items being widely out of stock due to high demand.

“A lot of shelves are empty,” Drotar said. “It’s usually stuff like bread and ramen. The grocery store employees are working super hard.”

Like Door Dash and Uber Eats, Shipt customers can also opt for no-contact deliveries. Another Shipt policy molded by the coronavirus is providing two-weeks' pay for qualifying employees who can no longer handle deliveries. The sum is calculated based on the average amount the employee made in Shipt deliveries during the prior four-week period.

Drotar initially found hustling through the frantic grocery stores "surreal," but has since become numb to the experience.

"I am used to it now. I tend to pick up the smaller Shipt orders because it’s less of a hassle and the people are being realistic. It feels better to do those orders, those make me feel like I’m actually helping people,” Drotar said.

Drotar plans to eventually stop delivering with Shipt, out of concern of spreading the coronavirus to the elderly or immunocompromised.

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