Students who deliver

The person behind the pizza

In rain or shine, hail or snow, delivery people are out on the streets of Groningen, ready to answer hunger’s call.
By Edward Szekeres / Photos by Luís Felipe Fonseca Silva

A ray of early-afternoon sunlight sneaks through your curtains and wakes you from a dead sleep. Your mouth is dry; a hazy memory of last night’s party clings to you like second-hand smoke; your hungover brain can only manage a single thought: hungry. You stumble to the kitchen. It’s empty, which temporarily confuses you. Then your half-dumb brain manages another thought: delivery.

Everyone has ordered delivery food. But have you ever wondered about the stories behind the smiles of the people – usually students – who cycle to your house, in a snowstorm, to deliver your pizza?

These are their stories.


Oha (21)

2nd year International Relations & International Organisations

‘I used to wear jeans, but I always got soaked. So now I look like a ski-instructor,’ says Oihana Jayo, gesturing at her water-proof red jacket and black rain pants. It’s Saturday, and it’s drizzling, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Oha has been running food for the Groningen delivery service, FoodDrop, since September.

It didn’t take long for the Spanish student to adjust to student life and start looking for work on the side. So she joined FoodDrop, a service that delivers healthy meals in recognisable bright red bags. ‘I like this work. It fits well with my study and exam schedule,’ she says.

FoodDrop promotes a culture of ‘healthy delivery’, so everyone at the company has to ride their own bike. Oha doesn’t mind being on a bike, as long as it’s not pouring – ‘then it’s horrible’. Otherwise, ‘it’s like going to the gym, but the gym pays you.’

Sometimes her job is less of a workout than a balancing act. She once delivered seventy smoothies to a business party, which took several painstaking trips. Smoothies are the trickiest. In spite of her best efforts, Oha sometimes shows up with a mess. She remembers one disaster of a delivery; the customer accepted his sticky, half-spilled smoothies without a word. ‘I felt like a monster’, she laughs.

Then there are the deliveries that invite a scratch on the head – the occasional naked man opening the door or having to take a slice of cake all the way to the other side of town.

Oha doesn´t speak much Dutch, but it’s usually not a problem. ‘Sometimes customers give me that “learn dutch” face and just continue speaking Dutch to me’, she shrugs. ‘But most people are really nice.’

Alessandro (23)

Master in Energy and Environmental Sciences

Italian student Alessandro Zanchetta stands in line at McDonald´s, waiting for fries and burgers that he’ll never eat. The former football player and musician joined Uber Eats when it expanded into Groningen in October. His green delivery box lies at his feet as he checks his Uber delivery app. It looks a lot like Pokémon GO.

The company doesn’t have a physical location in town. ‘Sometimes it feels like I’m working for someone who doesn’t exist,’ says Alessandro. He and his colleagues use McDonald’s as home base. ‘It’s the best spot since we only we deliver from here,’ he explains.

Because delivery drivers are freelancers, Uber doesn’t treat them like employees. Drivers often have to pretend something is wrong with the delivery just to get a company representative on the line. But Alessandro enjoys the freedom and flexibility that comes with the job. He gets paid per order, so he decides for himself how many hours he wants to work each week. He calls it a ‘betting system’, where drivers bet their time against the company´s money. ‘So far, I’m betting quite well’, he says.

He’s been delivering food for a long time. In Italy, he drove a scooter for a pizzeria. ‘As an Italian, money has always been an issue’, he tells me, as we wait patiently at a customer’s door. He is surprised to receive a tip. ‘This is pretty rare!’ Mid-celebration, his phone beeps with a new order. He gets back on his beater of a bike and clatters off, rushing to make the most of Uber’s elaborate system of bonus payments and promotions.

Weekends are busiest. ‘It’s fun when a zombie with a hangover greets you at the door with a very tired “thanks, man”, says Alessandro.

Dávid (21)

2nd year Economics and Business Economics

‘Ready for chaos?’, shouts an orange-clad Thuisbezorgd driver as he jumps onto his electric bike. Next to him stands Hungarian student Dávid Posza, who is also decked out in a large orange jacket, thick black pants, and an orange beanie. He says he gets so many stares when he’s out and about in his work clothes that he might as well be a UFO.

He shows me the Thuisbezorgd delivery app. It does everything: detailed scheduling, status updates, communication with dispatchers and other drivers. The company is a well-oiled machine.

Dávid averages fifteen deliveries on a Sunday, when it’s busiest. Most people order out on the weekends, but Mondays are dead. People must start the week with ‘resolutions to cook’, he muses. Fortunately for him, they’re less resolved by Friday night.

Thuisbezorgd often has several dozen drivers working at the same time. The dispatchers in Enschede have to be super on top coordination and communication. ‘they are the true heroes of this operation,’ Dávid says.

Thuisbezorgd riders stand out from the delivery crowed on electric bikes. So even though it’s busy, ‘it’s more tiring mentally than physically. A good cup of coffee is enough to get you on your feet again.’

‘That’s the opposition!’ David jokes, as we whiz past a couple of rival delivery riders. He waves at a colleague on the side of the rode and sits back on his seat, his bike humming cheerfully. ‘I really love this job. It´s a great community and everyone is very helpful. They help you manage your time so you can focus on your studies as much as you need to.’

Dávid eventually wants to move to the US or Australia to work in big data analytics. Every penny he earns in Groningen get him closer to that goal. Unfortunately, he says, ‘we don´t get many tips. I´d say maybe two euro every ten deliveries.’

People tend to tip more in the beginning of the month when they’ve just been paid. Sometimes, customers are generous in less conventional ways. ‘One night I had to extend my shift for a late delivery, and it was snowing. When I finally got to the customer after nearly an hour of ploughing through the streets, he offered me some of his food’, Dávid says. He declined.

‘Good luck and take care out there’, says the cashier at Burger King, holding a greasy bag out for Dávid. And then he is off again – one more ride on the road to his American dream.


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