FinMasters content is free. When you purchase through referral links on our site, we earn a commission. Advertiser Disclosure

Food delivery services have sprouted all over the US, and all of them need drivers. It sounds like a simple side hustle that can even be a full-time gig. That’s possible, but to really make it work, you need to know what you’re doing.

Here’s one driver’s take on how to make food delivery profitable.

How I Got Started With Food Delivery 🍔

My friends who were in college at the time first told me about DoorDash, and how they loved making money working whenever they wanted. I was in the military at the time, and I decided to give it a go one weekend.

I ended up enjoying it and started to do it on the weekends and when I was free. When I first started out, I wasn’t making much, around $17 an hour. This was mainly because I was a beginner and was delivering in the market of Jacksonville, North Carolina, which wasn’t exactly the most profitable. But it didn’t matter to me, as I enjoyed sharing the hobby with my friends and making some cash.

After a few years of part-time work, my skills increased, and I was able to earn closer to $20-23 an hour. I found better areas to deliver in, and I downloaded as many delivery apps as I could.

I broke $200 in one day for the first time, and I started to get addicted. Then I hit $300 in one day, and I started to realize there was some money here. 🤑

As my four-year enlistment in the military came to a close, I realized I was able to transition into the civilian world and sustain myself right away with these delivery apps, mainly because I knew I could already do it.

Fast forward a year later,  I was able to make a successful transition from military to civilian life. I now earn revenue from my YouTube channel, “Trevor’s Deliveries,” vlogging my experience, and I earn around $25-30 an hour with the delivery apps. I moved to Boston, which is one of the best cities for food delivery, and the highest I have ever made in one day is $618.32.

My message with this article is that delivery driving is only as profitable as you make it to be, and I want to outline the negatives of delivery driving as well. I’ll also explain why I don’t believe you should settle with doing DoorDash full-time.

I’m able to pursue my passion for video creation on youtube because of these gig apps, but take that away, I would pursue college or a reliable trade instead. I strongly believe these apps should be used as a stepping stone or a side hustle, not a career.

Regardless of your situation, let’s get right into the action and talk about how to make the most amount of money during your shift.

Delivered food

How to Accept Orders (Uber Eats, DoorDash, Etc)

Picking the right orders is the difference maker between making great money and working for peanuts. These are the most important factors when it comes to determining whether an order is worth accepting or declining.

Dollar per Mile Ratio

Dollar per mile is a commonly used term that calculates how much you will get paid per mile you drive. For example, a $10 order that is going 2 miles would be $5 per mile. A $7 order going 7 miles is $1 per mile.

💵 The higher the dollar-per-mile ratio, the better. You should aim for a dollar-per-mile ratio of $1.50 or above.  I recommend not accepting anything under $1 per mile.

So let’s say you get an order that is $10 for 3 miles. That is $3.33 per mile, so that’s a great order!

Dollar per mile ratio

Now imagine an order offering $5 for 8 miles.  That order is less than $1 per mile, which is not a good deal. You may find yourself eager to accept orders just to get the ball rolling but understand you may make more if you spend a few minutes waiting for an offer that is better.

Accepting orders with a high dollar-per-mile ratio will cut your spending on gas, as you will be working more efficiently.

Apps like Walmart, Spark and Instacart, which are grocery delivery services, will have a much higher dollar-per-mile ratio than food delivery orders. I highly recommend adding these apps to lower your gas expenses.

Drop Off Location

After I check the dollar-per-mile ratio, I will check the drop-off location. Circled below is how each app displays to you where you will be dropping your order off.

Map of drop off locations in different apps

⚠️ The drop-off location is extremely important. You must take some time to understand and memorize the geography of your area to avoid these types of drop-off locations:

  • Dangerous neighborhoods: Avoid dropping off to the bad part of your town at night if you can.
  • Areas with low densities of restaurants. If you deliver to a house that is 10 miles out in the woods, you will likely have to drive all the way back to get another order. These are called “dead miles”. Instead, look for dropoff locations that are near shopping areas/restaurants. That way, you can get orders right away after you drop each order off. This is the most efficient method possible for minimizing time spent waiting for orders in between gigs.
  • Areas with high road traffic. Knowing which roads are busy at certain times in your area will help you a lot in the food delivery game. Some roads in your city may be more congested due to construction or a high amount of traffic lights. Take this into account while judging orders. Avoid getting on the highway during rush hour.

These are all things you can see on the map when an order pops up. If you can hone this skill of judging drop-off locations, you can prevent a lot of frustration for yourself down the road.

Restaurants to Avoid

On the order offer screen, it will show you the name of the restaurant and where it is on the map. Circled below is what it looks like on each app.

Name of the restaurants in different apps

If you do food delivery long enough in your area, or if you’ve lived in that area for a long time, you will be able to tell exactly which restaurant that is and recall your past delivery experiences with that restaurant.

This knowledge is going to help you way more than you may think. Take notes of each restaurant in your area, avoiding the ones that match the following criteria:

🕙 “Long Wait” Restaurants

Along with a geographical knowledge of the roads, you will also have to have a knowledge of each restaurant you pick up orders from.

Some restaurants are slow at getting DoorDash/uber eats orders out. Some restaurants always have the bag ready when you walk in.

Picture this: you walk into a restaurant and tell the employee you are here to pick up a DoorDash order. They tell you that they are still working on it and there will be a 15-minute wait. You look around and see 5 or 6 other gig drivers standing around waiting for their orders as well.

Sounds frustrating? Well, that long wait is also going to lower your hourly pay. If this happens, take a mental or physical note of that specific restaurant and avoid it.

The chance of this happening again the next time you get an order from that restaurant is going to be high.

This knowledge is something you will build over time in your specific area, as you will find out some chipotle locations are faster than others, etc.

🚫 Restaurants With No Parking

This is common in the heart of downtown in big cities where a lot of people get around by walking, and the only parking around you are parking garages that cost money.

Imagine you circle a restaurant on the side of a city road for 10 minutes, and it’s impossible to find a spot. I’ve been there, and it’s very frustrating. Take a mental or physical note of that restaurant so you know to avoid it the next time you see an offer from there.

🚘 “Drive Through Only” Fast Food Restaurants

Some fast food merchants like Wendy’s or Taco Bell close their lobbies at night, which means you will have to wait in a long drive-through line like everyone else even though your order is just sitting there inside.

Some of these lines can be ridiculously long, and not only that, but the food will likely be cold. That can lead to lower ratings as the customer may assume it was your fault they had to wait for their food.

Being able to pinpoint fast food locations that close their lobby on the offer screen is a skill that will save you hassles.


Multi-Apping

Can you sign up for DoorDash and Uber Eats at the same time? The answer is yes.

I would strongly recommend signing up for as many delivery apps as you possibly can. Imagine you only have DoorDash. You can only get orders from one app.

Now imagine you have Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Doordash, and you turn them on at the same time. Not only are you opening yourself up to more frequent orders, but you can also be more picky and selective because of that increased quantity.

 Delivery apps

Once you accept an order, simply pause your other apps and continue with the order that you found best between all your apps.

There’s absolutely no reason to stay loyal to only one app.

However, it doesn’t mean you can accept multiple orders from each app that are spiraling in completely separate directions at once. Being extremely late to your restaurant multiple times can get you deactivated and is generally not a good practice.

Overall, having more apps is a proven method to increase your profits as a gig driver. The most popular apps are Doordash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Instacart, Walmart Spark, and Amazon Flex. If you have all of these apps, you are on your way to becoming a gig master.


Does Acceptance Rate Matter?

This is the biggest argument among delivery drivers and one of the most talked about subjects in this field.

First off, what is the acceptance rate? If you accept 19 out of 100 orders on average, your acceptance rate is 19%. Accepting orders at a higher rate than that will increase it, and declining orders at a higher rate than that will do the opposite.

Acceptance Rate

A lot of new drivers think that having a low acceptance rate will mean the app will eventually send you fewer orders. Is this true? It’s complicated and depends on the app.

👉 Uber Eats has been found to have no correlation between the acceptance rate and what orders you receive. That’s right, don’t feel bad about declining orders from the app. Only pick the best ones.

👉 DoorDash, on the other hand, has two programs that incentivize rewards for having a higher acceptance rate, the “Top Dasher” and the “Diamond Program”. Whether they are right for you depends on your situation. Let’s talk about it.

Top Dasher

To put it simply, if you have a 70% acceptance rate at the end of the month on Doordash, the next month, you are rewarded with “Top Dasher” status with the main incentive of being able to work whenever you want.

Unlike Uber Eats, Grubhub, Instacart, and Walmart Spark, On DoorDash, you must schedule your shifts ahead of time in order to work. This is to prevent an over-saturation of drivers on the app. If you didn’t schedule, don’t worry, you will still be able to work. However, you may have to wait a considerable amount of time for your location to “open up” or “turn red”. Below is a visual of what this looks like.

DoorDash - when you do not schedule your shift ahead of time in order to work

Top Dasher status means you can bypass this and log on whenever you want. But you must get to that 70% acceptance rate in order to earn it, which means you have to accept orders that you usually wouldn’t take in order to maintain a high number.

💸 This leads to lower profits upfront.

Is it worth it? I think it’s 100% dependable on your situation. If you have every single app that is constantly giving you orders throughout the day, like uberEats, where you can already work whenever you want, I think it’s not worth it.

This is the situation I am in. Because I have 5 different apps on at once, if I’m not able to get on DoorDash, it’s not going to affect me. If I’m able to get on, great. If not, I can use other apps. This way, I can work any hour of the day without having to suffer through accepting orders that I know are bad to keep my acceptance rate high.

If DoorDash is your only app and it’s the only way you can work a full day, and you are in a position where you need to work those full days to stay afloat, it’s worth chasing that Top Dasher status.

Diamond Program

The diamond program is a similar reward tier that promises more frequent “high-paying orders” if you maintain a 50% acceptance rate. You can lose this status if your acceptance rate drops to 49%, unlike the top dasher program, where status is kept throughout the entire month as long as you’re above the threshold on the last day of the month.

50% Is an easier percentage to maintain, so it would take some experimentation in your area to determine whether it’s worth it or not.

Conclusion on DoorDash Acceptance Rate

It’s up to each driver to determine whether these programs are worth maintaining their acceptance rate. Personally, I believe that expanding your delivery opportunities through other apps to maintain your ability to cherry-pick only the best orders at all times is the best scenario to be in.

Expanding Your Delivery Opportunities

Uber Eats and DoorDash both have extra order opportunities that a lot of people do not know about. Uber Eats has the UberEats Plus Card, which grants you access to shopping orders that operate much like Instacart. These orders are high-paying gigs, and I have gotten orders with payouts of up to $50 with this program.

Uber Eats plus card

💳 You need a physical card in order to access these orders, so make sure that you order one through the app. If you’re having trouble, you can contact an uber eats agent to get you set up with one.

DoorDash has the Large Order Program. This is also a must-have for drivers. The requirements to be in this program are as follows:

  • 200+ lifetime deliveries
  • 100+ completed deliveries in the past month
  • 4.7+ average rating in the past month
  • 95%+ completion rate in the past month

The completion rate is different from the acceptance rate. It is maintained by not “unassigning orders”. Unassigning an order is basically canceling an order after you accept it, which you can only do before you physically pick the order up.

Once you have these stats, you may get an invitation email to the program. If not, you can contact a DoorDash agent to get that invitation email.

From there, you must purchase a large catering bag and submit a photo, an investment that will be well worth it once you start receiving orders paying out $30+. If you want to make some real money, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be in these programs.

Grocery Delivery Apps

You should also download Instacart and Walmart Spark to increase your order opportunities further. These apps require a little more labor and skill than just delivering food from A to B, but the high payouts typically make up for it.

How to Accept Instacart Orders

Much like food delivery, choosing orders that pay the highest amount for the least amount of items and miles is the key to success on Instacart.

First, note that the miles shown on the Instacart offer screen are store-to-drop-off only. It doesn’t state how many miles the store is from you, so you will have to glance at the map and estimate the distance yourself. This is something you shouldn’t let blindside you. Instead, do an approximate mileage estimation from you to the store, and add that to the number shown on the screen to find your true mileage for the order.

Instacart - Estimating the distance

It takes roughly 1-3 minutes to find each item on average, depending on your skill level, and another 5-10 minutes to check out.

So Let’s say an order is $25, 12 items, and 3 miles. Shopping/checking out should take roughly 20-30 minutes, along with another 15 minutes to drive and drop it off. $25 for 45 minutes is worth it in my book.

Now, let’s say you get an order that is $11, 33 items and 7 miles. With a higher item and mileage count, matched with less pay, this order is significantly not worth it.

With practice, you will develop a skill for picking batches, and that comes with time. But don’t worry, it doesn’t take long. The more batches you do, the more you will become familiar with the app and process.

How to Accept Walmart Spark Orders

Walmart Spark has 2 order types: “curbside pickup” and “shop and deliver”.

 Walmart Spark Orders - curbside pickup and shop and deliver
🛒 Shop and Deliver

Shop and deliver orders work just like Instacart and Uber shopping orders. However, one benefit of Walmart Spark is that you do not need to spend time at the checkout. Just head to the self-checkout and scan the barcode using the Walmart Spark app. Once it goes through, an employee may look over your cart to make sure everything looks correct.

Proceed to bag your items carefully, putting an emphasis on not crushing fragile items such as bread and fruit. Now you are on your way to deliver!

You can use the same criteria you follow for judging Instacart orders to browse through these Walmart shopping orders. These orders are slightly faster due to the easier checkout, and the app does a good job of guiding you through the store to make sure your shopping route is efficient.

Recently, these orders have had higher payouts than Instacart in my area.

🚙 Curbside Pickup

These orders require you to find the pickup location, which is located on the side or back of your local Walmart store. There should be signs to help guide you.

Once you get there, park in one of the designated areas, and an employee will bring your order out to you. To speed up the pickup, you can call their phone number to let them know what spot you are in and that you have arrived, but keep in mind to be respectful and understand they likely have a heavy workload of orders.

Keep in mind you can get stuck here for 30+ minutes if they are extremely busy, so make sure the payout you receive is enough to make it worth it. Look for orders that are $2+ per mile, and make sure they can fit in your vehicle beforehand.

Once they have loaded your car with the groceries, scan the barcodes to confirm the pickup. You will also have to scan the barcode at your dropoff.


Which App Is the Best?

So far, I have talked about 5 delivery apps, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Instacart, Walmart Spark, and Grubhub. Which is the best? It depends on your area. In some areas, Uber Eats is better. In some areas, Doordash is better. You will have to test this out for yourself. Regardless, you need to sign up for all these apps to maximize your earning potential and make the most amount of money possible using the multi-app methods I explained earlier.


Key Factors to Success

The name of the game as a gig driver is working smart and not hard. These key factors will determine your profitability, so it’s best to know about them so you can use them to your full advantage.

🚗 Your Car

Your gas mileage is going to make a huge difference in your profitability. If you drive an older vehicle with bad mileage, it may not be worth it to do food delivery.

Some of the most efficient cars include the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Chevrolet Volt. The Toyota Prius has consistently been one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market, with up to 58 mpg in combined city and highway driving. The Honda Civic also offers excellent fuel efficiency.

🏡 Where You Live

Some areas are simply more profitable than others. In Boston, the food delivery game is strong. In a smaller town, the results may not be the same.

If you live anywhere near a big city, you are at an advantage. You will have to do some exploring to find out which is the most profitable area in your region. I’ve found that the center of downtown is not as profitable as most people would think.

Boston areas

Instead, college areas with a high density of restaurants and population are always reliable when it comes to the number of orders. Expensive areas with high-end restaurants will provide you with the highest tips.

My advice is to find these areas in your region. I like to work in the college areas during lunch and mid-day and make my way to expensive areas during the dinner shift.

💼 Commuting to Delivery Zones

If you live in a delivery zone already and you can get orders from your house, you have a big advantage. This factor will make food delivery more profitable for you as you do not have to spend time and gas commuting to an area where you can get orders.

The farther you have to commute to get to an area to start delivering, the less profitable it is going to be. So consider moving to a good area if you put lots of hours into these apps.

At the end of your shift, you should aim for your last order to be near your house, for maximum efficiency.

⭐️ Customer Ratings

If your customer rating drops too low, you can be at risk of being deactivated. Keep a high customer rating by communicating with the customer when issues pop up, using your insulated hot bag to keep the order from getting cold, and being polite while dropping off.

Another metric you can get deactivated for is the completion rate. The completion rate is lowered when you cancel an order after you accept it. Reasons for doing this include long waits at restaurants or just simply changing your mind about an order.

You are allowed to cancel an order freely before you pick it up, but if your completion rate on Doordash drops below 80%, you can get deactivated. It’s important to know what percentage you are at to avoid this happening to you.

Instacart requires you to maintain an 85% completion rate, or a 15% cancellation rate, as their app states it.

Uber Eats does not have a set completion rate requirement, but consistently low completion rates can result in deactivation.


Should You Deliver Full-Time?

While it’s definitely possible to make a full-time living from these apps, they are best used as a stepping stone or a tool to make extra cash. Personally, I’m able to grow my youtube channel and utilize food delivery to provide me with the income I need. It’s also a great way for college students to make money while pursuing higher education or for people who are out of work to stay above water while they look for another job.

Your mindset with these apps should truly be how much you can make for the least amount of time and work possible. Full-time drivers also tend to have to work longer hours, which can result in lower hourly pay due to having to work during times that are less profitable, such as midday. Part-time drivers can choose to work only during the dinner shift, which is more efficient.

It’s also important to recognize that you can be deactivated at any moment. It is possible to be wrongfully deactivated, as some customers lie about not getting their order in order to get a fraudulent refund. Always have a backup plan for if you got deactivated today, and always have a goal that you are working towards if you are a delivery driver.


What to Do When It’s Slow

If you’re not getting any orders, it may be best to go home. Avoid working when it’s slow, especially if you are a part-time driver. This is why it’s more beneficial to be a part-time driver than a full-time driver nowadays because full-time drivers are more likely to find themselves in a situation where they have no choice but to push through the slow hours.

🐢 Wednesdays and Tuesdays tend to be the slowest days, and 1 pm to 4 pm tend to be the slowest hours. Weekends and lunch/dinner hours will be more profitable.

Multi-apping is crucial for surviving slow hours if you choose to deliver during these times. Having more apps will result in more delivery opportunities and less time sitting in your car waiting for orders.

Do not drive around in circles waiting for orders. It’s better to sit at a hotspot and conserve your gas. Only drive without an order if you are unable to get one from where you are. In that case, driving to a hotspot may increase your chance of receiving your next order.

If you’re set on working a full day, you may find yourself decreasing your order standards slightly to stay busy during these hours. This is common.


Expenses

The downside to delivery driving is the expenses. The two main expenses you will have are gas and car maintenance. If you are a skilled delivery driver in a good area and can maintain a high dollar per mile, you will have lower expenses relative to your earnings.

I’m able to make about $700 on a full tank of gas with my Toyota Corolla, which is not bad. If you are ignorant of your dollar-per-mile ratio, you could be earning $300 or less on a full tank of gas, depending on what car you drive. Efficiency really is the key to success.

Putting miles on your car will also lead to more frequent oil changes and car maintenance, so it’s wise to put aside money to make sure you are covered if you have to pay for an expensive repair. Be sure to put aside money to pay taxes.

Apps that will assist you with your expenses are gas cash-back apps like GasBuddy and Upside. These apps help you earn cashback on gas and help you find the cheapest price for gas in your area. Apps like Gridwise and Everlance help track miles for your tax deduction.


Contacting Support

Each app has a support hotline that you can contact if you need assistance. Reasons for contacting support may include the following:

  • Closed Store – If you get an order and arrive at the restaurant only to discover it is closed, you may contact support and receive a compensated payment. From there, you will be able to move on to your next order.
  • Another Driver Already Picked Up The Order – If you are doing a food delivery order and the store employee tells you another customer already picked up the order, someone probably stole it. Call support and inform them about the situation.
  • Car/Personal Emergency – In the case you experience a car accident or must attend to a personal emergency while you have the customer’s order in your car, you may contact support to let them know you are unable to deliver the order. However, abusing this with multiple fraudulent cancellations will get you deactivated.

Conclusion

There is some good money to be made in the food delivery game. However, I will always stand behind the idea you should use it as a side hustle or a stepping stone due to its volatility. Any day you could get deactivated, get in a car accident, or make little money due to it just being outright slow.

I hope these tips help you make more out on the road. If you could take away one thing from this article, it would be to work both smart and hard. You need both to make it as a delivery driver.