Picture this: You’re unemployed. The hunt for a new job is going unsuccessfully. Bills are piling up. Faced with few alternatives, you sign up to be a food delivery rider in Singapore. It’s tough, often unpleasant, work but it puts food on the table.
But for 26-year-old Sandy Lee, her journey to being a food delivery rider did not follow this trajectory. She willingly quit her comfortable, stable corporate sales job to be a part-time food delivery rider. We sat down with her to find out why she swapped office wear for a bright pink Foodpanda T-shirt.
Leaving a corporate job
Wake up, work, come home, sleep, repeat. For 6 years, this was Sandy’s life. The monotony of the routine and incessant office politics, coupled with having little time for herself and family, wore her out. Stressed, anxious and burnt out, she left her job in 2017 to take a break.
To supplement her income during this period, she took on a series of ad-hoc jobs. She was a concert events runner, an extra for Mediacorp dramas and Crazy Rich Asians, a pet sitter and a pub singer at live music venues.
One day, she saw an ‘auntie’ doing food delivery and thought, “If auntie can do [it], [it] shouldn’t be a problem for me right?” So, Sandy decided to give being a Foodpanda food delivery rider a go.
How her life has improved as a food delivery rider
On average, Sandy takes home $2,000 a month and works 5 days a week. Usually, she works from 11am to 1pm and 5pm to 8pm. These time slots are when Foodpanda offers peak period rider incentives. On Fridays, Sandy gives herself “a break from the sun”, and only does evening and late-night orders.
After being deskbound for so long, the ability to control her schedule was liberating. But being a food delivery rider offered Sandy flexibility in more ways than one. Now, how much she earns is directly proportional to her hustle.
“The money is there. Let’s say I really need the money today, then I’ll work longer hours lor. You can solely depend on food delivery as a full-time job or treat it as a means to supplement your main income.”
Still, Sandy doesn’t push herself to work more than 10 hours a day. Getting adequate rest before the next day of work is one important way to take care of yourself. It’s part of having a work-life balance, which she prizes and can now afford.
So aside from peak delivery hours, when is the best time for food delivery riders to earn the most coin? “Rainy days are the best for getting orders as people don’t want to go out,” Sandy reveals.
In general, her customers are polite and understanding if their orders are delayed because of the rain. Some have even given her towels to dry off. Those in the food delivery riding community look out for each other too.
“While waiting for orders at the food collection point, we’ll chat and ask like, ‘Ho seh boh (how are you)?’ or ‘Wah today rain then order not bad hor’. There is a sense of camaraderie. If we see you around [for] more than a few days it’s like, ‘Hello, welcome you’re one of us’ and [we’ll] add you into the [rider’s] group chat.”
Why Sandy’s parents objected to her food delivery rider job
But doing deliveries during a heavy downpour can be dangerous.
“There was this rainy day and I was going down a hill. A cat appeared and to avoid the cat, I fell down and hit my forehead. It looked like I kena punched in the face and I had to wear [sunglasses] the whole day,” Sandy shares.
“Another time, I was ‘lightly bumped’ by a car. Nothing much lah, just orh cheh (blue black bruises) and some cuts. I did go for an X-ray but nothing [was] wrong.”
Concern for her safety was why Sandy’s parents were initially unsupportive of her being a food delivery rider. “I’m known for being clumsy. But if I can do this job for two years and still stay in one piece, I think I’ve proved them wrong and that I can take care of myself lah,” she laughs.
Exercising and exploring Singapore on a bicycle
To deliver food, Sandy alternates between using a bicycle and an e-bike. Getting regular exercise has bettered Sandy’s well-being. Physically, she is more fit. Mentally, she’s found her mood to have improved.
“I like sports so when I’m on my bike, I set little challenges for myself like how quickly I take to conquer a particular slope.”
When on her bicycle, she sticks to delivering food to the north/west side of Singapore as she is limited by how far she can cycle. Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, Bukit Timah, Choa Chu Kang, Holland Village, Mandai and Yew Tee are her regular haunts and she knows them “in and out”.
What she likes most about the region is that there are many park connectors. Riding through these green spaces makes her feel calmer and less stressed. If there is the option to pass through a park connector on a delivery route, she will take it.
Delivering food has also introduced her to new food and restaurants in the area, especially in the west of Singapore. An unexpected find was an eggs Benedict-inspired prata named Plaster Blaster from Springleaf Prata Place.
One of Sandy’s favourite areas to deliver to is the Dairy Farm estate. When the sun sets, the light paints the green fields a splendid gold. People pull out chairs, relax and chit-chat with their friends. The scene never fails to make life look simpler, happier.
Another favourite is the Rail Mall stretch along Upper Bukit Timah Road. The charming strip of shophouses has many bar and coffee shop options. If you’re looking for fun date ideas, Sandy recommends spending an afternoon petting cats at The Cat Cafe and taking a leisurely stroll to the hidden pond at the end point of the Rail Corridor after.
Why Being A Food Delivery Rider Is The ‘Best’ Career Move For This 26-Year-Old
As the interview comes to a close, I ask Sandy if she’ll ever go back to the corporate world. The reply is a quick “no”.
“Before COVID-19, everyone [would] be like, ‘Why [do] you want to ride under the sun? Other jobs can pay well and [give] you other opportunities.’”
“But I’m not a 9-to-5 person. I will never go back to corporate [life] because I don’t like the fixed hours. The only thing I miss about the office environment is the air con.”
From my chat with Sandy, it’s clear that she marches to the beat of her own drum. Currently, Sandy juggles between being a food delivery rider and a part-time pet sitter. She is saving up for a MacBook and music production lessons.
Eventually, she hopes to go back to singing and venture into the local music scene. Even then, she insists that she still wants to do food delivery on the side.
“Food delivery will be here to stay. There are times when I collect [food] from a vendor and just go upstairs [in the same block] to give [it to] someone. And I see that, ‘Oh, this person is injured and cannot move.’”
“Sometimes, it’s the mother who needs to take care of three babies and can’t afford to leave the house or elderly people [with limited mobility]. So [I’m happy because] this job can help a lot of people.”