Ramadan 2020: Dubai delivery riders tell of 'busiest' holy month in memory

Covid-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for fasting delivery drivers

Rakesh Kumar, bike delivery rider at Freedom Pizza, puts on his safety helmet.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Motorbike delivery riders often have a thankless task as they weave their way through heavy traffic to ensure food is brought to those at home.

The job can be fraught with pressure at the best of times, but having to do it in the middle of a pandemic only adds to the challenge.

During Ramadan, a large section of those delivery riders are also fasting during the day with rising temperatures only adding to the difficulties of the holy month.

The National spoke to a number of riders delivering fresh orders to homes during one of the most extraordinary Ramadans in living memory.

Imagine what a Dh10 tip per customer each day would do for a low earning worker

“It’s definitely been the busiest Ramadan I have ever worked,” said Waqas Yaqoob, supervisor and senior driver with Freedom Pizza.

“Usually, business would be a bit slower at this time but it is the opposite this month because everyone has to stay home.

“Most people have been really friendly and considerate about social distancing though, which has made a big difference.”

Mr Yaqoob is one of more than 200 drivers that Freedom Pizza has on the road in Dubai.

He said every precaution has been taken to keep them safe amid the coronavirus crisis.

This includes phoning customers ahead of arrival to give them the option of having their food left at the door without ringing the doorbell, or knocking, and bypassing any direct contact.

The 29-year-old from Pakistan, who has been delivering in Dubai for six years, said customers who did answer the door were encouraged to reach into the rider’s bag and remove the food package themselves.

Rakesh Kumar, bike delivery rider at Freedom Pizza
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Rakesh Kumar says less traffic during pandemic has made it easier to get fresh food to customers. Reem Mohammed / The National

He spoke about the warmth and kindness shown by many customers this Ramadan.

“People are so good. Often they will give us a tip and ask if we are fasting,” he said.

“Because of the Covid-19 factor people also want to tip us more and want to make sure we are staying safe.

“Even those that aren’t able to tip us are really nice and make a big deal of apologising when they don’t have to.”

Mr Kumar and his colleagues at Freedom Pizza make an average of just Dh70-90 each week in tips.

While the coronavirus outbreak has made social distancing a must and increased pressure on delivery riders in some ways, the restrictions on movement have helped in others.

“It’s made it easier in that we can get the food to the customers quicker because there isn’t much traffic on the roads,” said Indian Rakesh Kumar, 30, who also works for Freedom Pizza.

“The roads are safer now and the customers get the food fresher.”

Another driver, who works for Quiqup, spoke about the realities for delivery riders during Ramadan.

“Everybody has got used to the Covid-19 restrictions and there’s no real problem with that,” said Abubakar Manzoor, 25, from Pakistan.

“The real problem is that it’s getting hotter every day and you struggle in the heat, especially when you are fasting.

"But you just have to get on with it.”

One rider, who sought to remain anonymous, said he and all his colleagues were aware of the risks involved with their profession during a pandemic but had to keep working.

“What can we do?” said the rider, who drives under the Deliveroo banner.

“We just have to do our work and hope for good tips because our families are counting on us.”

Everybody has got used to the Covid-19 restrictions and there's no real problem with that. The real problem is that it's getting hotter every day.

Stephen Levins, who helps train front-line staff in hospitality and other sectors, said it was vital to tip delivery riders during the current crisis.

“Tipping should not only be seen as a generous gesture but also a massive thank you to those workers who are still putting their lives on the line to deliver your food,” he said.

“While high earning executives have taken 20-50 per cent pay reductions to stay home or take some time off, their monthly salary would often still be more than a delivery driver’s annual salary.”

He said delivery riders could end up making more than their usual month’s salary if everyone tipped them.

“Imagine what a Dh10 tip per customer each day would do for a low earning worker,” he said.

"You won’t miss Dh10 but it could change the life of someone who is working harder and longer hours to make sure you don’t go without food.”