DoorDash can be a fun, lucrative side gig - but only if you do it right. Here are 5 things I learned in my first night Dashing - and some big mistakes to avoid.

Most people don’t have just one job anymore.

Many folks have started seeking side income from the “gig economy” to make ends meet. And with DoorDash seeking drivers, you may be considering signing up.

After all, DoorDash has many benefits over ridesharing. Unlike Uber or Lyft, DoorDash:

  • Doesn’t require supplemental auto insurance.
  • Can be done in any type of personal vehicle, even a Vespa.
  • Won’t result in vomit in your car (unless it’s from you).
  • Overall, involves limited interaction with other people.

So, if you’re considering becoming a DoorDash driver, what should you expect? Is it easy? How much money will you make? What best practices should you follow, and what mistakes should you avoid?

Here are five things I learned from my first five hours of “Dashing.”

1. You can become a bonafide DoorDash Driver in under 15 minutes

5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Hours As A DoorDash Driver - You can become a bonafide DoorDash driver in under 15 minutes

I joined DoorDash on a Sunday night. Impulsively. I wanted an excuse to cruise around town and figured hey – might as well bring people their Sunday dinners (and make a few bucks) while I’m at it!

At 7:04 PM, I downloaded the DoorDash – Driver app, fully expecting to spend the next hour jumping through hoops until I’d presented my case as a trustworthy human being – at least to the extent that I could promptly deliver hot wings.

To my surprise, at 7:18, I’d become DoorDash’s newest driver. 14 minutes, and most of that was just waiting on the background check to come back.

In total, here’s all you have to do to become a DoorDash Driver:

  1. Download the DoorDash – Driver app for Apple or Android.
  2. Enter your contact info.
  3. Link your bank account for direct deposit.
  4. Pass a free background check.

And that’s it. Easiest job interview ever.

Once I was approved for driving, there wasn’t much “training” involved. Instead, DoorDash goes for an “on-the-job training” approach, easing you into things one step (or screen) at a time.

On the first screen, you’ll see which delivery areas have lots of orders flowing in. If areas are gray, it means don’t bother, wait for the dinner rush:

 5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Hours As A DoorDash Driver - Delivery areas screen

Click “Schedule” and DoorDash will ask when you’d like your shift to end.

 5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Hours As A DoorDash Driver - Schedule screen

You’ll want to choose this number carefully, since DoorDash deliberately makes it hard to abandon your shift early without hurting your driver score and costing you money (more on that later).

Once you choose a shift, DoorDash will ask you to drive to the nearest “hotspot” – usually a cluster of restaurants where lots of orders are coming in.

So you’ll drive to your hotspot, wait a couple of minutes, and get your first order.

Here’s what an order popup looks like (I don’t want to show anyone’s address from my own experience, so here’s a screenshot from DoorDash themselves):

5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Hours As A DoorDash Driver - Order popup

So before accepting an order, you’ll see:

  1. The minimum guaranteed compensation for the order.
  2. The restaurant.
  3. The destination.
  4. The “par time” for delivery.

Once you accept, DoorDash will automatically GPS you to the restaurant. Once you arrive, DoorDash will show you the customer’s detailed order, and place the onus on you to confirm that everything’s there.

2. It’s definitely still a customer service job

If you’ve had a customer service job in the past, you know exactly what I mean. Here’s the story of how I pissed off a DoorDash customer and got an unpleasant phone call from DoorDash themselves.

My first half dozen orders went as smooth as the butter on a Popeyes biscuit. Grab the food, deliver the food, get positive feedback, profit. This was easy – even fun.

Then came my 7th order. It was supposed to be a routine mission. Just bring McDonald’s to an apartment 1.5 miles away. Got it.

Weirdly, McDonald’s stacked her food and drinks together inside one giant, sealed paper bag, precariously handing it to me like a newborn baby. I nestled it in the passenger footwell, driving slowly over speed bumps to avoid spilling the mocha on the cheeseburgers.

Upon arrival, I noticed that the customer had marked “Please bring to my door” on her instructions. This was impossible since her lobby was locked up for the night – but thankfully, a curious staff member let me in.

“DoorDash?”

“Yep.”

“Please leave the food on the DoorDash delivery table. We don’t allow non-guests past the lobby. I’ll lock the door behind you.”

Woof. Alrighty, then – who was I to argue?

He locked the door behind me and disappeared, and as I was texting the customer, some rando in swim trunks swooped in and took the food.

Then, my phone rang.

Where’s my food?”

“Umm… that wasn’t your friend who just got it?”

“Wait, someone stole my food???”

The customer then exploded on me as if I’d lost her dog, not her cheeseburgers. She said it was 100% my fault since I hadn’t brought it to her door. I tried explaining that the building staff wouldn’t let me, but she didn’t buy it.

Soon, a guy claiming to be her husband arrived, demanding I recant every detail like a murder witness. After I described the Swim Trunk Bandit, the husband sprinted after him like Will Smith in the opening scene of Men in Black.

When the customer called me back to rant more, I apologized again. I told her it was my first night with DoorDash, and that I’d be happy to go pick her up some more cheeseburgers on my own dime.

She hung up on me.

Four minutes later, I got a call from DoorDash. They asked me to explain why their customer was so blindingly irate about her order. I told the whole story again for the third time – and they didn’t seem to believe me, either.

But perhaps it was because I’d gotten five stars on every order before this one that they didn’t send a helicopter to eliminate me.

I’d survived the mocha mishap, but was certainly reminded of one thing:

People will be people.

3. DoorDash makes it hard to stop – both literally and figuratively

5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Hours As A DoorDash Driver - DoorDash makes it hard to stop - both literally and figuratively

After getting verbally accosted by both a 22-year-old and a Fortune 1000 company over $6 worth of McDonald’s, I was honestly ready to throw in the towel and go home.

That’s when DoorDash showed me just how hard it is to stop DoorDashing. – both literally and figuratively.

In a literal sense, the DoorDash – Driver app makes it pretty inconvenient to pause or end your shift.

  1. If you’re in the middle of a delivery, you have to tap “Menu” and toggle Stop orders after this delivery.
  2. If you’re between orders, you have to go to the Dasher menu and toggle Pause orders.

 5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Hours As A DoorDash Driver - Pause or end shift

Those both sound really simple, but if you’re currently on a delivery, it’s hard to find a minute to fiddle around with your phone. You’re usually driving, walking, or trying to find the customer.

If you’re between deliveries, on busy nights DoorDash will bombard you with order requests. This is normally a good thing, but order requests take up the whole screen, and I personally couldn’t figure out a way to end my shift prematurely without having to decline or let expire an order or two.

This was a bummer because declining orders hurts your Driver Acceptance Rate – and only drivers with an Acceptance Rate above 70% will achieve the coveted Top Driver status and get first dibs on the highest-paying orders.

In a figurative sense, DoorDash makes it hard to stop Dashing simply because it’s kind of fun. In my book The Millennial’s Guide to Making Happiness, I discuss how Blizzard made World of Warcraft deliberately addictive using a few key dopamine-dripping tools:

  • A constant trickle of rewards. Each delivery takes around 20-30 minutes, meaning it’s hard to say no to “just one more.”
  • Unpredictability. You never know if your next order will be for $5 or $24, which keeps things exciting.
  • Constant variety. In 5 hours, I visited 15 different restaurants – some of which I’d never been inside before – which kept things fresh and far from monotonous.
  • Gamification. DoorDash won’t let you slouch – each delivery is timed. Generously, but timed nonetheless – so you’re always racing the clock like in a video game.

However, while World of Warcraft is pretty manipulative, DoorDash is just inherently fun. I never felt taken advantage of while Dashing – I was just enjoying myself.

DoorDash makes it kind of hard to stop Dashing, but deep down, I didn’t want to. I’ve sincerely enjoyed DoorDashing.

That being said, there are definitely some orders that are more fun than others.

4. There are certain orders you should just skip

As mentioned, the way DoorDash works is that once you approach a hotspot, you’ll start getting orders. 

You have 45 seconds to accept the order or just let it expire (you can also downright decline it before the timer expires). If you let an order go, DoorDash will wag its finger, warning that you “missed” an opportunity and that your Acceptance Rate has gone down.

Sometimes, it’s worth it.

In my limited experience, here are the hallmarks of the ideal DoorDash order. By hour three, I was only accepting orders that checked at least two of the following boxes:

  1. High pay. Pretty self-explanatory. Orders over $10, I took without hesitation. Orders under $5, I always skipped, and between $5 and $10, I considered the next three factors.
  2. Dropoff nearby. Dropoff points within five miles mean less driving, less gas, and less time spent having to get back to your hotspot.
  3. A dropoff is a house. I delivered most of my orders to apartments, but houses were definitely preferable. A house you can just drive right up to and knock on the door. An apartment you have to find the guest entrance, use the call box to get in, realize that DoorDash doesn’t give you the customer’s last name so you can’t use the call box, call the customer, they don’t pick up, customer calls you back seven minutes later, you can’t find Building 300, and by the time you do, the fries are soggy. If you live in an apartment and order DoorDash, crystal clear instructions will make your driver’s night.
  4. Food is from a real restaurant, not fast food. Right now, many dining rooms are closed, meaning that DoorDash drivers have to wait in the long drive-thru line with everyone else. To illustrate, it took me 25 minutes to get through a Popeyes drive-thru. Including driving times (and finding their apartment), that order took 50 minutes for a payout of just $5.50.
    That said, Fast food pizza places are another story. Oftentimes, they’re even better than regular restaurants because DoorDash will assign you multiple orders at once. I picked up two Papa John’s orders at once for customers that lived in the same subdivision, meaning I made $13 in 30 minutes.

My best order all night was for a $15 delivery of Chinese food to a townhome just three miles away. Jackpot. The kind woman even tipped me more after a speedy delivery.

By contrast, DoorDash tried offering me $3.25 to deliver Ben & Jerry’s to someone eight miles away. I think not!

5. All in, you can net around $15/hour DoorDashing if you do it right

5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Hours As A DoorDash Driver - All in all you can make around $15/hour if you do it right

I made $78 in my first five hours Dashing.

Factoring in expenses, I used $7 worth of gas (I averaged ~25 mpg), so all in, I netted $14.20 per hour.

Driving on Sunday night proved helpful to my bottom line. Not only did I get a dinner rush bonus of +$2 on every order, but the roads were totally clear and the orders were flowing in. For every $4 fast food order I declined, a $9 restaurant order was right behind.

Summary

Would I drive for DoorDash again?

Definitely. It’s fun, it’s a half-decent wage, and you get to discover lots of new places and restaurants around your city. It gets frustrating sometimes since it’s still a service job, but if you follow my tips and avoid my mistakes, you’ll have a better (and more lucrative) time.

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About the author

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Chris helps people under 30 prosper - both financially and emotionally. In addition to publishing personal finance advice, Chris speaks on the topics of positive psychology and leadership. For speaking inquiries, check out his CAMPUSPEAK page, connect with him on Instagram, or watch his TEDx talk.