In summer this is a lovely job. Who’d want to be stuck in an office then? But on a freezing winter’s night it’s less lovely. There are no Deliveroo offices to sit in. Instead there’s a muster point, which means some benches by the bus station. It’s where we wait, shivering, for an order.
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Dmitry, the mad Russian, is unimpressed by my thermals, scarf and gloves. He’s in cycling top and lycra longs. “This is not cold,” he says. “St. Petersburg, now, minus 25 normal. That is cold.” To warm up I use the toilet in the cafe opposite. I buy a coffee in return. I can see a vicious circle here.
I get an order. It’s an Italian restaurant known for their disorganisation. No cultural stereotypes though: the staff are eastern European. Orders should be ready for pickup when we arrive, but this lot often keep us waiting 20 minutes.
As expected, they say it’ll be a while. Normally this is a pain — late orders count against us all — but tonight I’m grateful; I can wait inside and thaw out.
They apologise and bring me a coffee. And another. Eventually my order is ready. I recognise the address: a student house. Presumably botany students, judging by the plant life cultivated inside. There’s always a sweet, smoky smell here and they often order chocolate-based desserts late at night.
I arrive with the pizzas, 20 minutes late. The lights are on, but there’s no answer. Now all that coffee is kicking in and I need a loo.
Still no answer. Their garden is temptingly full of shadowy, unkempt shrubbery. Lots of natural cover.
I phone them. They’re at the pub, back in two minutes. I urgently need a toilet, but what to do? Using a customer’s toilet clearly isn’t on and anyway I’d get passive-smoking-stoned inside. Neither can I afford to get caught irrigating their garden. It would reflect terribly on the company, maybe lose me my job. So of course I don’t. Get caught, I mean.
They arrive, smiling, unconcerned by the late delivery. Luckily this is the most laid-back house in town. I even get a quid tip.
The harsh reality of tips
Tips are rarely a reward for competence or effort. You struggle with a dozen precarious bowls of soup, deliver it quickly and intact despite icy cobbled streets to an unlit unnumbered address five kilometres away, and get nothing. You take a burger to someone two minutes from the restaurant on a sunny summer evening and get a fiver.
Tipping is more to do with mood. On nice nights, people feel warm and generous. On dark cold ones they’re in hibernation mode, stashing not sharing their resources.
The rest of the evening is busy, so although tipless, I keep warm. No time for coffees now, which is just as well. My last order happens to be up the road from the student house. Is that my imagination or has the shrub by the front door wilted?