What is it like to be a GrabFood rider during the circuit breaker?

The circuit breaker is an especially difficult time for GrabFood riders, as this youth discovered after trying out the job for a week.

Low Jia Ying
Low Jia Ying

Published: 22 May 2020, 9:41 PM

The reliance on food delivery services, such as GrabFood, looks likely to continue since dining out isn’t allowed in Phase 1 of Singapore’s exit from the circuit breaker.

But what are things like for GrabFood riders during this time?

Niklaus Teo, an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, was curious to find out. The 23-year-old, who had just started his summer vacation, signed up to work as a GrabFood rider for a week from May 2 to 9.


Niklaus was at first curious about how much a rider could earn, but he ended up learning a lot more from his experience. PHOTO CREDITS: NIKLAUS TEO


“The job was definitely way harder than I thought it was going to be,” said Niklaus, who was used to a more sedentary lifestyle as a full-time student.

He shared that being on the road for hours at a time isn’t as easy as it looks. In fact, he clocked up about 1,000 km on his Vespa during the week.

“To put it in perspective, 1,000 km is like riding to Kuala Lumpur four times on a bike. And it’s also a lot of starting and stopping, not just cruising on a highway,” he said.


Besides having to ride long distances, delivery riders have to wait in long lines to enter malls during the circuit breaker. PHOTO CREDITS: NIKLAUS TEO


Touched by the kindness of customers

As tiring as the job was, the one thing that struck Niklaus was how kind customers were.

“It was really shocking, I would have people giving me drinks and sweets, almost on a daily basis. Tips as well,” he said.


One of the houses left a tip taped to the door that read: “To Grab Driver Niklaus, Thank you!” PHOTO CREDITS: NIKLAUS TEO


The other riders he met also noted that they have been receiving a lot more gifts from their customers during the circuit breaker.

Niklaus said: “Sometimes they would offer you a cold packet drink, which is perfect because you tend to get dehydrated when you’re riding for a long time and it’s hot outside.

“There was this lady I was doing a delivery for at 9.30pm, and outside her house was this permanent box of treats, like candies and biscuits, for people doing a delivery. She gave me a red packet as well,” said Niklaus.


Niklaus shared that he was most surprised about the kindness and generosity shown by the customers on his route. PHOTO CREDITS: NIKLAUS TEO


Sense of camaraderie among riders

In his week as a GrabFood rider, Niklaus experienced a sense of community among delivery riders, and how they were always willing to help each other.

On his first delivery for the week, he met another rider that parked behind him at the block he was supposed to deliver to.

“He asked me if I was delivering to a specific address, and pointed out to me which elevator to use. And I was like ‘Oh how do you know?’, and he said that he comes here really often,” said Niklaus.


Niklaus found that riders were always willing to help each other out if they could. PHOTO CREDITS: NIKLAUS TEO


The job can be dangerous

Beyond coming into contact with many people throughout the day, and potentially exposing himself to the virus, Niklaus realised that being on the road under stressful circumstances can be very dangerous.

During one of his deliveries, he almost met with an accident when the car in front of him braked suddenly on a merging lane.

Niklaus said: “There’s no way you can make a merchant cook faster, so the only way to make yourself more efficient at your job is to ride faster.

“But by doing so, it’s a trade-off with your safety. It’s easy for people to resort to riding as fast as they can.”


Food merchants often get swamped with orders during meal times, which can cause delays in the delivery. PHOTO CREDITS: NIKLAUS TEO


A lucrative job?

Niklaus made slightly over $1,000 during his week, but said he probably would not continue doing this job full-time after experiencing the long and hard hours required to make that amount of money, as well as the safety risks involved.

He was keen to continue working on weekends though, as he earned twice as much as he did on weekdays.


Some weekdays were particularly slow; he only made about $100 after working hard for eight hours. PHOTO CREDITS: NIKLAUS TEO


Niklaus hopes customers can continue showing empathy and patience towards their delivery riders. This is especially the case with more people staying in to order food and the circuit breaker measures, like having to record one’s temperature before entering malls, slowing down the delivery process.

“At the end of the day, most of them are doing this to support their families or themselves during this trying period,” said Niklaus.

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