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Are Incentives Like Doordash Top Dasher and Others Worth It?

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Is Doordash Top Dasher worth it? What about Uber Eats Pro or Grubhub Premier?

Doordashers wonder if it's worth it as they chase the Top Dasher carrot
Are Incentives like Top Dasher or Premier status Worth it?

At the start of every month, Top Dasher becomes a hot topic in Doordash forums. People made it or didn't make it. People wonder what it will take to make it the next month. Ultimately the question should be, is it worth it?

Why are these incentives necessary for gig companies?

The bottom line is, gig companies are not allowed to require independent contractors to accept delivery offers. A company cannot control the work of an independent contractor, if they want that control, they have to hire you as an employee.

The question is, if they cannot force you to accept an order, how do they get the lower paying orders delivered? We are paid as a combination of delivery fees from the company and the tip from the customer.

Too often, the delivery fee isn't enough on its own to make a delivery worthwhile, so if the customer doesn't tip well, how do these companies get the food delivered?

They can do one of three things:

  • Hire employees instead of using contractors
  • Pay better on lower priced deliveries
  • Offer incentives

These companies aren't going to go the employee route unless forced to do so.

Doordash's old pay model was designed to pay more on lower tip deliveries. However, they came under fire for that pay model and were forced to change.

As a result, Grubhub and Doordash in particular have opted for the third option. While they cannot require you to accept offers, they can offer incentives or rewards for higher acceptance rates.

Thus, we have Top Dasher and Premier/Pro/Partner status.

Doordash's Struggles Under Their New Pay Model

Rock climber struggling signifying Doordash's challenges with new pay model
Doordash was forced into a new pay model but it has led to some challenges to overcome

I really believe one of the reasons that Doordash surged to the lead has to do with they were better than anyone at getting orders completed. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact they were able to figure out a system that worked better than a delivery fee that was independent of the tip.

Essentially, if the tip was low, they paid enough extra to make it more attractive to a number of Dashers. If the tip was high they could get away with paying a super low delivery fee.

The problem was the structure meant that tips often didn't increase the amount that Dashers would receive. Therefore, Doordash was kind of forced into changing their pay structure.

I said way back at the beginning that I thought when all was said and done they'd be back to a similar model. I just thought they wouldn't be very obvious about it.

I'm seeing higher delivery fees when the tip is low. To be fair, I'm also rejecting the $2 and $3 delivery offers, so my sample data is skewed.

But that brings out the issue: Doordash is struggling much more than I think they expected in getting orders fulfilled.

I think acceptance rates across the board have tanked under the new model, so Doordash has to figure out another way to get people to take orders.

Understanding Top Dasher

I don't think there's any coincidence in the fact that Doordash has rolled out their Top Dasher program around the same time as they introduced their pay model.

Doordash introduced the program as an additional incentive to encourage drivers to improve their numbers. Like any incentive program, it's a matter of meeting the requirements and getting the rewards.

What are the rewards for Top Dasher?

Based on the language in their description, the rewards are not necessarily set in place. They could change from month to month. According to the email I received on November first, the rewards for the month were the ability to dash anywhere at any time, and getting priority on deliveries.

To my understanding, nothing changed in December.

Are these substantive rewards?

rewards like Top Dasher - are they worth it?
are the rewards for Top Dasher meaningful or just a lot of fluff?

I have to say, I'm skeptical about the priority on deliveries. I have not noticed a difference in the offers I was receiving as a top dasher than when I wasn't. It's really impossible to measure without knowing what offers MIGHT have come.

In fact, I have to wonder if they aren't more likely to offer a lower dollar delivery to a Top Dasher just because they know they'll be more likely to accept it. From my experience and observation, this doesn't seem to be a real factor.

The Dash Now feature CAN be a good benefit. It all has to do with how Doordash only makes so many slots available for drivers in a given region. On any given time slot they will only let so many Dashers log into a region.

They have expanded the ability for Dashers to pre-schedule their logins. The Dash Now incentive allows a Top Dasher to go available in any region, regardless of whether all the slots are taken. This can be huge if it's hard to find an open slot in your area, as it gives you a lot more freedom to dash whenever you want wherever you want.

In my market, during peak times it really isn't an issue. Between 5 and 9 and between 11 and 2, I can log into most regions pretty easily.

There are some markets that aren't as busy or that don't have that have way too many drivers, and that can be a totally differen picture. In the end, whether this is a good benefit depends on things like how busy your market is, and on how badly you need access during less busy periods.

What do you need to qualify for Top Dasher?

In the past, the requirements for Top Dasher were:

  • Maintain a 4.7 (out of 5) customer rating or higher
  • Complete at least 95% of the deliveries you accept
  • Complete 100 deliveries for the previous month
  • Have at least 200 lifetime deliveries.

I never had a problem with any of these. These are not hard to obtain.

The completion rate is most challenging, but you simply have to be a little more thoughtful about what orders you accept.

However I think that when you accept a delivery you are making a commitment. In my opinion, these were fair.

Starting with November 2019 deliveries, Doordash has added a 70% acceptance rate to the criteria.

That means that by the end of November you have to accepted 70 out of the last 100 offers (as they base their ratings only on the last 100).

That was the game changer. I kind of expected it.

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In fact I think that was the plan all along. Introduce an easy to achieve metric, get people used to the Top Dasher, and then add the real important metric later.

I think you have a lot of people who made Top Dasher in the previous two months that now are more likely to accept more offers, that maybe never would have bothered if they introduced acceptance rate right away. Personally,it wasn't worth it.

Understanding Grubhub Program Levels

Level Up graphic for Grubhub program levels
Grubhub has three different program levels, encouraging contractors to move up to the next level

Grubhub's program level, with its Premier, Pro and Partner level, is their primary incentive for accepting orders. To understand the impact of their program, you have to understand how Grubhub does scheduling.

Grubhub schedule blocks

With Grubhub, you can simply go available to accept orders, or you can sign on for a block of time (usually in one to two hour increments). You can expect much better and much more consistent orders when you are scheduled.

The exception would be during extremely busy periods.

The bottom line is, your best chance at being profitable on Grubhub is to schedule yourself.

Program levels and rewards

Grubhub has three levels: Premier, Pro, and Partner. The qualifications for each market vary. I will list what they are for my market for the sake of example.

Premier

For Premier, you need to:

  • accept 95% of your offers
  • drop less than 10% of the blocks you scheduled
  • show up for every block that you scheduled but didn't drop (100% attendance).

Premier drivers have first access to scheduling blocks in their region. Blocks become available on Thursdays.

Pro

For Pro level, you have to:

  • accept 85% of offers
  • drop less than 20% of blocks
  • have 100% attendance.

Pro level drivers get second access to schedule blocks, with availability on Friday for the following week.

Partner

Grubhub's Partner level is the designation for anyone who doesn't meet Pro or Premier criteria.

Partner drivers get access to the schedule on Saturday for the week ahead.

Some meaningless incentives.

I've seen Grubhub dangle a couple of incentives to drivers that really are meaningless or nonexistant.

They've offered access to a referral program. In my nearly three years with Grubhub, I've never seen a referral program, for anyone.

They've offered access to catering orders. Grubhub has phased out a lot of the catering options, with many Premier drivers never receiving any such opportunities.

In the end, the only tangible benefit for Premier or Pro is scheduling access.

Understanding Uber Eats Pro

Uber Eats has just recently rolled out a new incentive program in select markets. Uber Eats is different, in that they don't tie access to acceptance rate. Instead, they give you points for every order you accept.

They have Gold, Platinum and Diamond levels. Rewards include cash back when buying gas with their debit card, free roadside assistance, discounts on helmets, and tuition coverage with ASU Online.

For the tuition coverage, you have to apply for financial aid first, including student loans. Uber only kicks in coverage when financial aid falls short. It's more of a marketing ploy.

As of this moment it appears the only difference between tiers is the percent of cash back you get on gas purchases (3% for gold up to 5% on diamond). That option was only available when using a special Uber Eats card from Go Bank, and only at a select few stations.

Update (November 2020): Recently it seems the cash back option has disappeared.

Are these incentives worth it?

Balance with Cost symbolized by large bearing, Benefit symbolized by small marble.
Does the cost of Top Dasher, Grubhub Program Level or Uber Pro outweigh the benefits?

I think it's a fairly simple question: are the rewards worth the trade off?

Here's the deal: For Doordash and Grubhub, the only real reward with any substance is the better availability for delivery times. Everything else is a virtual carrot on a stick.

While Doordash offers “more deliveries” I did not notice any difference as a Top Dasher. Note that it doesn't promise “better” deliveries, only more.

However, if you are in a market where there are more couriers in a given platform than there are time slots available, that schedule access can be important.

The question becomes: What does it cost you to qualify?

And really, with the Doordash and Grubhub programs, the only real qualifier that really costs you is the acceptance rate. I don't see any problem with keeping your schedule or only dropping so many blocks on Grubhub.

I don't see a problem with having to complete an order once you accept it, and you SHOULD be good enough in your customer service to maintain that minimum customer rating. With all of these other requirements, you really aren't giving up much.

The high cost of a high acceptance rate

HOWEVER…. acceptance rate can be very costly.

I'm starting an experiment. For the month of December I decided to go ahead and pursue Top Dasher status. Essentially I'm rejecting Walmart orders and order and pay deliveries, and the most obscene orders (super long distance, super low pay). That should leave me at about a 70% acceptance rate.

For October and November, I profited $21.90 and $20.57 per hour on Doordash deliveries, respectively. Now I'm only five days into December, but so far my profit on Doordash orders is at $14.18.

In other words, In taking 70% or more of offers, I'm making about 2/3 what I was making when I was more selective.

Let's put it another way: Being selective is earning me 50% more. That's huge.

Update: I abandoned this experiment within less than a week. It wasn't worth it.

Weighing the benefits and the disadvantages in less busy markets.

Here's the deal: I can afford to not be top Dasher where I am. I can afford to be Partner where I am. My market is busy enough that I can still grab plenty of Grubhub schedule blocks on Saturday morning. It's busy enough that I can sign on most times of day to deliver with Doordash.

But what if your market is not?

Then you have to ask yourself this question: Is it enough? If that $14 per hour holds up, that's not worth it. Not to me anyway.

I can make more money doing other things but I choose slightly lower pay as a trade off for the flexibility and the freedom. If the pay is significantly lower though, it no longer is worth doing.

Remember this: You're not making what you think here folks. The numbers I mentioned? That's my PROFIT. That's after taking my 25 cents per mile actual cost on my vehicle into consideration.

If you're accepting every order, you're driving more miles. If you have a newer car, your cost per mile is WAY more.

Don't forget that making $14 per hour GROSS – that's total – that's about like $7 to $10 per hour profit. And those kinds of numbers, those are reality in markets where it's that slow that Top Dasher or Premier are virtual necessities.

Are these programs violating the independent contractor relationship?

shaking hands over a contract broken down the middle
Does the emphasis on acceptance rate and the incentives offered violate the spirit of the independent contractor relationship?

In markets where you have to maintain status to work substantially, I think you could make the case that this is the same as requiring you to accept orders. It is one thing to reward someone for taking more offers. I really have no problem with that.

But when it crosses into penalizing you for not taking more offers, then they've crossed a line.

I haven't evaluated Uber Eats yet…

At this point, it's kind of hard to compare the Uber Eats pro program. On the one side, acceptance rate doesn't matter.

All they want is for you to deliver so many orders. You could do as few as 17 deliveries in a month and get most of the perks. The other thing is that what they offer really is more like perks. There's something really there.

But is it worth it? What is it really giving you? These are all just kind of those extra perks that really don't cost them anything and a lot of things that you probably won't take advantage of.

Now I haven't dug into how the ASU online tuition thing works but I have to say I'm skeptical. Now maybe there's something there, but I'm just not sure how that works when it's a month on and month off thing and tuition doesn't work that way, you know what I mean? That is the only thing of real substance.

Cash back? Folks… add up your gas costs for the month. I average about $300 a month. 3% of that is $9. That's one good Grubhub delivery.

And to evaluate this, you have to ask, what is the opportunity cost? What I mean is, are you giving up better paying deliveries by taking those Uber Eats deliveries?

How much more would you get per delivery for someone else? A dollar per delivery? Okay, 17 deliveries at a dollar each – that's already paid you double what the cash back is. Or if you take 50 deliveries to get diamond, now you've given up $50 to get $15 in cash back.

What about other incentives like Peak Pay, Boosts, Quests?

These tend to be more substantive. There's something more tangible, in my opinion. You can evaluate them as part of the evaluation of an individual delivery.

I will tell you that I don't trust Grubhub or Postmates enough to ever make a decision based on what they are dangling. Grubhub has been constantly pushing out notifications that they are offering bonuses. I've never received any.

Postmates likes to offer up a bonus for completing so many deliveries in a time frame but too often the offers dry up as soon as you are close to the goal.

A quick note about Boosts on Uber Eats. I noted a couple weeks ago that they came out with really high boosts when they rolled out their new pay model here. But here's the deal now on that – a boost of 2.0 means you get double the delivery fee.

Well now they slashed the delivery fee nearly in half and added a trip supplement. The boost only applies to the delivery fee, not the supplement. That means that the boost is really only worth half what it was before.

Is an Uber Eats quest worth it? Think of it this way – a quest that pays $2 per delivery is essentially adding $4 to $5 per hour to your deliveries with them depending how fast you get it done. Does that offset the difference of what you earn with Uber Eats and anyone else?

Final thoughts on pursuing incentives

Here's my advice. Ask yourself these questions:

Is it achievable? Is it something you can reasonably expect to accomplish?

What does it really give you? Is it something you would really use or that really makes a difference. What is the actual value to you.

What does it cost you? For example, I'm finding that running a 70% acceptance rate so far is costing me about $7 per hour. Or maybe it's about opportunity cost – for example I average about $21 per hour on Grubhub and about $14 per hour on Uber Eats. Would focusing on Uber Eats for an incentive pay me more than that opportunity cost?

Is the cost greater than the benefit?

How I see things personally.

This is based on my market and my way of doing things, so it's not how I think YOU should necessarily see them. Top Dasher and Premier or Pro don't give me enough in return to make it worth the lower earnings.

Even the Uber Eats Pro – while I don't have to accept a percentage, the bottom line I make so much less on their deliveries that it's not worth the extra $10 of tangible benefit. Quests of $2 per delivery don't offset the difference between what I make on Uber and others.

Your market may be different. In particular, access to schedule may make it feel more necessary. But at that point, would it be enough if you pursued those? Now maybe in some markets you make enough at those levels to be worthwhile. You just have to ask if it is.

Here's one way I look at it: I do primarily Grubhub because they are more steady in my market and pay consistently at or above my level that I'm going for. But if I have to do 95% to get access, my earnings per hour go way down.

So now I have to ask myself some things. Are they still the best paying platform? Well maybe now Uber Eats with their quests and greater flexibility may actually pay more.

Or if they are still the best option, is it enough? For me, if it's a question between having access to blocks and accepting everything, I'm either going to shift to something else or quit driving. At that point it has moved away from an incentive or bonus and moved into being a pay cut or even a punishment.

Here's the bottom line, Courier Nation: Know what the benefit really is. Understand what you are doing enough to know what it's really costing you. Your answers are going to be different than mine based on where you are. But the guiding principle remains the same: If the benefit is greater than the cost, go for it. If not, run away.

Could this help someone else? Please share it.

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