DoorDash Changes Tipping Model After Uproar

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DoorDash, the nation’s biggest on-demand food-delivery app, is dropping a widely criticized tipping policy that effectively meant customers’ tips were going to DoorDash rather than the worker who delivered their meal.

The decision follows days of widespread outrage and angry customer complaints about the policy after a New York Times reporter described in an article what it was like to work as a deliveryman for the company.

DoorDash’s reversal comes amid a broader debate about jobs and fair pay in the so-called gig economy, where workers have more flexibility but less stability and fewer benefits.

“Going forward,” DoorDash’s chief executive, Tony Xu, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night, “we’re changing our model — the new model will ensure that Dashers’ earnings will increase by the exact amount a customer tips on every order. We’ll have specific details in the coming days.”

DoorDash’s 400,000 delivery workers are known as Dashers.

Under the policy, which the company adopted in 2017, DoorDash would offer a Dasher a guaranteed minimum amount to do a delivery. If a customer tipped, in most cases a tip paid through the app would go to subsidizing DoorDash’s contribution toward the guarantee, rather than increasing the Dasher’s pay.

For example, if DoorDash guaranteed a worker $7 for a delivery and a customer did not tip, DoorDash would directly pay the worker $7. If the customer tipped $3 via the app, DoorDash would directly pay the worker only $4, then add on the $3 tip so that the worker would still get only $7.

While the announcement is good news for customers who would like to think that their tips are going to increase a worker’s earnings, the implications are much less clear for the Dashers themselves.

There is no such thing as minimum wage in the piecework world of on-demand delivery. Also, the apps frequently adjust their complex pay models, which include incentives for working during rush periods and volume bonuses for doing a certain number of deliveries in a set time.

On a forum for DoorDash workers on Reddit, some Dashers greeted the news with concern that DoorDash would simply pay them less to make up for the revenue it would lose by not using tips to subsidize labor costs.

“I’m worried that the orders will guarantee less now, but we get all the tips,” wrote a Reddit user named Dmillz648. “Meaning a previously guaranteed 10-dollar order might now only guarantee 5 bucks, and you get a 2 dollar tip, meaning you got 7 bucks for that order.”

“That’s my worry too,” replied a user named williams91. “And it saved me in times that I’ve been stiffed, so we’ll have to see the model. I’m nervous but excited.”

A DoorDash spokeswoman did not immediately comment on whether the company would change its payouts to workers.

DoorDash, which was valued at $7.1 billion after a round of financing this year, has faced bad publicity about its policy before.

In February, Instacart, a grocery delivery app, dropped a similar tipping policy in the wake of a shaming campaign, and DoorDash was pressured to follow suit.

At the time, Mr. Xu stood firm. “This is a model that is built with Dashers in mind,” he said then. “The pay model is meant to make sure every order is worth fulfilling.”

But after The Times published an article on Sunday by a reporter who spent days working as a deliveryman for DoorDash and other food apps, the blowback reignited on social media.

Thousands of people blasted the company, swore they would tip DoorDash workers only in cash or said they had deleted the app altogether.

“I don’t believe that a single person intends to give a tip to a multibillion dollar venture-backed start-up,” a tech journalist, Louise Matsakis, wrote in a tweet that was retweeted thousands of times. “They are trying to tip the person who delivered their order. This deceptive model should be illegal.”

All the other major delivery apps, including GrubHub and Uber Eats, give workers 100 percent of tips, but their base pay rates vary.

When this reporter rode for DoorDash, Uber Eats and Postmates this spring, DoorDash’s guaranteed minimum payouts were typically higher than the payouts of Uber Eats and Postmates, which lets workers keep the tip.

On one DoorDash order I wrote about, the guaranteed minimum was $6.85, and that was what I got paid even though the customer tipped $3 via the app.

But it was a short delivery — only about six blocks — and I would have been paid only $3 or $4 for doing the same delivery for Uber Eats or Postmates under those apps’ compensation and minimum-payment policies.

In his Twitter thread last night, Mr. Xu wrote that under the model that was being dropped, DoorDash’s average contribution to Dashers was the same as it had been under the pre-2017 model. Before 2017, DoorDash paid Dashers a flat fee per delivery, plus any tip from the customer.

“But it’s clear from recent feedback that we didn’t strike the right balance. We thought we were doing the right thing by making Dashers whole when a customer left no tip,” he wrote. DoorDash says customers do not tip 15 percent of the time.

“What we missed was that some customers who did tip would feel like their tip did not matter.”

Counting tips toward a worker’s wages is not a technique invented by tech companies. It is borrowed from the restaurant industry concept of a “tipped wage.” But restaurant employees are covered by minimum-wage laws and laws that limit the amount of tips that can be counted toward those wages.

In New York City, for example, restaurants are allowed to count up to $5 per hour of a worker’s tips toward the minimum wage, which ranges from $13.50 to $15 per hour.

Because delivery workers for apps are legally considered independent contractors, not employees — they set their own hours and can accept or reject any job, though they have no ability to negotiate rates — they have no wage protections.

But across the country, legislators and advocates for workers are pushing for change.

The California Senate is considering a bill that would reclassify hundreds of thousands of gig-economy workers as employees. It is being opposed by Uber and Lyft, the ride-hailing giants.

In New York, a city councilman, Brad Lander, said on Tuesday that he was working to create a living-wage requirement for delivery workers.

“We can say by law that they must pay people a living wage, but calculating what that means and how to enforce it is complicated,” Mr. Lander said. “That’s what we’re working on.”