Advice from an experienced delivery driver

During 2002 and 2003 I worked for eleven months at two different restaurants in Southern California delivering pizzas for major pizza companies. My tasks included assigning deliveries to other drivers and training new drivers, and I instructed all of our drivers in safety methods, including some not taught by the pizza companies that I view as extremely important.

Below I give important information that every delivery driver needs to know, and this also applies to other delivery work besides pizza delivery. I will also use a story about a driver who was attacked to illustrate the importance of these tips, which can be far more valuable than the monetary tips given by customers.

Credit: Photo is from Wikipedia by Scott Bauer, and in the public domain.

Americans eat more than 3 billion pizzas every year - close to ten per person on average![1]

Some basic rules for pizza delivery

After explaining some basic rules every pizza delivery driver should follow, I’ll then share a story about a scary situation involving one of our drivers, followed by critical safety rules that I came up with. Basic rules are as follows:

(1) Follow traffic laws. It is tempting to drive fast when you make more money by delivering more pizzas more quickly, although getting a ticket – or worse, getting in an accident – has a way of making someone very much regret their actions. To lessen the need for speed, increase your efficiency.

(2) The first restaurant that I worked at often had me deliver five orders at a time. Using a map, you can learn to create logical routes that result in orders being delivered in the minimum amount of time possible. If you are able, deliver the oldest orders first.

It’s helpful to memorize as much of the delivery area as possible, meaning knowing where streets are and where they go without having to refer to a map. It’s a good idea to study a map and look for shortcuts and alternate routes. The more familiar you are with the streets, the easier it will be to do your deliveries quickly and efficiently.

(3) As part of making your delivery time efficient, ensure that multiple orders are located in the same general direction from the restaurant. Managers or whomever is assigning orders may not know the streets, and may not know how best to assign particular orders. Have whomever is assigning deliveries make a change if you are given orders in different directions.

Talk to whomever is taking orders over the phone. If they’re telling customers that their orders will arrive in 20 minutes, but they’re not in the customer’s hands until after 30 minutes, you’ll get a small tip or maybe zero tip even though it wasn’t your fault. Make sure times being quoted are accurate or even a little longer than what it’ll really take.

(4) Do a great job and let them see that you’re a positive, hard-working person who always does the best job possible. This is the best way to get more hours. Don’t be afraid to ask the manager for more hours, but be patient more than pesky.

(5) Don’t refuse to come in on certain days unless you really can’t. One legitimate reason that most places will accept is if you don’t want to work on the Sabbath day due to your religious beliefs. The more flexible you are though, and the more available when they need help, the better.

The most important tips I can give pizza delivery drivers are those that relate to safety. Safety is discussed next. 

Pizza #2
Credit: Photo is from Wikipedia, by Flickr user cyclonebill, CC BY-SA 2.0.

There are more than 70,000 pizza restaurants in the USA.[1]

Critical pizza delivery safety tips, with a story illustrating their importance

At the first restaurant I worked at, one dark evening I was in the restaurant when one of the drivers pulled in yelling for us to call 911. He was bleeding from his chest, and luckily a customer who happened to be present was a nurse and helped him until an ambulance arrived.

I stayed next to him and we talked as he sat in a white plastic chair, which blood was trickling down and onto the ground. He was crying and very upset because someone had stabbed him with a knife and stole his money and the pizzas he’d been trying to deliver. After ten minutes or so an ambulance took him away. Thankfully he survived, although was likely traumatized.

What I learned when talking to him was that he did several things to actually facilitate his attacker. It was entirely unintended of course, but had he known and followed some important safety rules, he likely wouldn’t have suffered as he did.

Near the city I was working in there were two areas that remain unincorporated. They’re full of houses, but have no street lights and are pitch black at night. Many of the roads are in dreadful condition, and it can be very hard to find whichever house placed an order.

It’s an unfortunate fact that a small percentage of the population is psychopathic yet currently not in jail.[2] Some of them will viciously attack people who don’t deserve it whatsoever, and they look for and plot such opportunities. One such plot could involve placing a pizza order with intent to rob the driver. Other times a real order may have been placed but one of the psychopaths will see the driver coming down the street, and they’ll see an opportunity to cause harm.

My co-worker was a victim of the second scheme described. Someone saw him slowly driving along, and he couldn’t identify the house he was supposed to deliver to, on a very dark street. He had a brightly lit sign on his car with the name of the restaurant, his door was unlocked, and he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He stopped and while looking down at the address on a piece of paper, someone pulled the door open and before he could react, they stabbed him, threw him to the ground, and took his money and pizzas. Then they disappeared and obviously didn't care if he died.

Pizza photo #3
Credit: Photo is from Wikipedia by Lppa, CC BY-SA 3.0.

93% of Americans eat at least one slice of pizza every month.[1]

The rules I made and taught to all drivers, plus any new drivers we hired:

(1) Anytime you are delivering to dark neighborhoods, take the sign off the car. No driving around with a well-lit sign advertising what you have.

(2) Car doors must be locked, and the car must not be stopped unless you clearly identify which house the delivery is for. The house must be well lit. If the house number can’t be seen, or if the house is not well lit, turn around and take the order back to the restaurant. Don’t get out and walk around or knock on doors in poorly lit areas.

(3) In cases of pizzas brought back to the restaurant, inform the manager that the house couldn’t be found due to darkness and/or the house number not being visible. Call the customer and tell them that if they want their order they will have to come pick it up. Make sure the manager changes the order so it’s not on you as a delivery. (Important: Don’t work at a place that won’t allow you to do this.)

Following these rules was important for our drivers and their safety. Another of our drivers was shot at in one of these areas, shattering her back window. The girl promptly drove back to the restaurant and quit. Inform management of such situations and ask that such areas be excluded. Don’t be afraid to quit if the restaurant delivers to areas that seem too unsafe to deal with. There is always some risk anywhere you go, but some places are extra unsafe, and there’s nothing wrong with determining that they aren’t worth it.

When I was first hired, a regional manager spoke to the new drivers about safety. He said a lot of people have had a feeling that something wasn’t right just before something bad happened, and he urged us to always pay attention to that feeling and to take it seriously. As an example, he said we should turn around immediately if we get this feeling when we’re approaching a door in the dark. The feeling is usually strong and it’s real, and I also recommend heeding it if it happens to you.