It was past noontime, and the sun was beating down on Lieu in the unforgiving heat of the concrete jungle that is Saigon. She had just delivered one order of mì trộn thịt bằm tóp mỡ to a customer in Tan Binh. No new orders were coming in, but she continued driving along Cong Hoa Street.
Lieu is one of the dozens of food delivery riders plying the streets of Vietnam every day. The 32-year-old Ben Tre-born rider has been working with Baemin for more than three years now — a job that supports her and her six-year-old child.
“I don’t usually stop while waiting for new orders,” she said. “I usually go near milktea and coffee shops as these are the most in-demand orders.”
Lieu’s day starts at around 6 o’clock as she prepares her son for school. After she sends him off, she then puts on her mint green jacket and starts taking orders through the Baemin app. For a ten-hour shift, she usually gets an average of 20 orders.
While food delivery riders can choose their shifts and location of service, Lieu says she opts not to get weekends off.
“I work every day, even on weekends or on rainy days, or whenever I have the chance to. While my son is at school, I spend the whole day on my motorbike delivering food.”
Food delivery riders don’t have fixed incomes. They earn mainly through the shipping fee per order, which means the more orders they complete, the bigger their take-home pay. This is why Lieu takes all the opportunities to make deliveries come rain or shine.
In fact, the demand for food deliveries is significantly higher on rainy days. When people can’t dine at their favorite restaurants, food delivery riders like Lieu brave the wind, rain, and traffic to bring food orders to their doorsteps.
And it’s not actually the crazy weather that makes her job most challenging (and definitely not being a female rider).
Canceled COD orders, she shared, are her worst enemy. For cash-on-delivery orders, the rider pays for the products directly to the vendors and waits until they’re handed over to the customers to get reimbursements.
According to Baemin policy, riders must immediately contact the service center to report unsuccessful COD orders. After confirmation, they get a refund equivalent to the value of the order, and they get to keep the food.
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A waiting game
Food delivery is a waiting game – and it requires a great deal of patience and calm. It’s not every minute that riders get orders, with idle time evidently longer than when they’re working.
Most orders come at lunchtime from 11 am to 1 pm and during dinnertime between 5 to 7 pm. But it’s also during these times when restaurants are packed with a hundred dine-in customers and a gazillion takeaway orders.
At 1:20 pm, a new order for Lieu came in. She drove fast to Đảo Hải Sản, a popular sashimi and frozen seafood place in Tan Binh. The one small set of salmon sashimi she was summoned to buy and deliver took some time to prepare. Not to mention there were four other riders who came before her.
But Lieu was seemingly unbothered. She waited on a monobloc chair, checking her Facebook timeline. She only answered with a smile when asked if the waiting ever gets boring. At 1:43, Lieu was on her way to make the delivery.
“Waiting for the customer is harder than waiting at the restaurant,” she quipped. Five minutes had passed, but the customer who ordered the salmon sashimi was still nowhere to be seen. The security guard of the commercial building Lieu was parked at was already signaling her to move.
It’s probably the fact that she’s raising her son alone that has taught Lieu to master the virtue of patience. Being a working single mother entails understanding, tolerance, and restraint, especially when the circumstances don’t look good.
When the customer finally showed up, there wasn’t any hint of frustration on Lieu’s face. That wasn’t even half of what she had experienced earlier that day when the customer moved to a different location, about half a kilometer from what she had indicated on her order.
It’s the 5-star rating, Lieu said, that takes the stress away. Baemin riders who are consistently rated five stars by customers and have the least number of unsuccessful orders enjoy prime incentives and bonuses. Most importantly, star ratings boost a rider’s motivation.
“Tip, too,” Lieu added.
Camaraderie among riders
The daily journey of food delivery riders can’t be taken lightly. Several factors directly affect their jobs, from fluctuating gasoline prices and unpredictable weather to sometimes difficult customers and dangerous traffic conditions.
Lieu said these things are beyond her control, but she can stay composed amidst these difficulties.
It’s a whole different story, though, when it comes to her son. As a single mother, Lieu has no one to share the heavy responsibilities with. She starts and ends her shift based on her son’s schedule at school because she can’t hire a babysitter.
It’s worse when her son gets sick, which happened quite often last year, she shared. There were moments when she had to abruptly cut her shift to bring her kid to the doctor or let go of a day’s worth of income to stay home with him.
But it’s during these troubled times that Lieu felt a sense of community among fellow Baemin riders. She had built strong friendships with many of them that they had willingly taken over her pending orders so she could care for her child.
“This is what I like the most about this job. We all help each other when there are problems.”
The competition is there, of course. Riders don’t work collectively, and each earns based on individual productivity. But they all know how tough and exhausting their job can be — driving around the whole day without the certainty they’d earn enough to pay the bills. It’s the kindness and generosity they offer each other that make the hardships more bearable.
Lieu can only hope to receive the same from the customers she brings good food to.