Life as a GrabFood rider

From highs like jaw-dropping earnings and $18,500 bonuses to lows like prank orders and nightmare customers, it’s hard to tell fact from fantasy when it comes to food delivery riders. Keen for a rare peek into their day-to-day, I took the plunge and signed up to be a GrabFood rider in early May 2021 – right in the midst of the Heightened Alert measures.

I’m a full-time writer by trade, but a passionate and avid cyclist in my free time. While my stint as a GrabFood rider was certainly a novel experience, it sure didn’t hurt to get some extra side cash while clocking in some weekend exercise, too. 

At least, that was what I expected as I excitedly embarked on my journey as a food delivery rider.

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Physically demanding days that easily cover the length of Singapore

grabfood rider - total distance in a day
During my relatively short four hour shifts, I clock in an average of 40KM per day. For reference, the length of Singapore measures in at 50KM.
Image credit: Ian Ling

As someone who regularly zips along long-haul routes on a road bike and occasionally tackles rugged cycling trails on Pulau Ubin, I’d consider myself quite a seasoned cyclist. But covering over 40KM a day each weekend with a humongous box strapped to the back of my bike, I was completely exhausted at the end of each shift.

With an average Saturday afternoon session clocking about four hours, I would complete about 12-13 jobs on a good day. But based on casual conversations with fellow deliverymen, seasoned riders can cover up to 72KM a day: twice the distance of the 36KM Coast-to-Coast trail that stretches from Jurong Lake Gardens to Coney Island.

But unlike your leisurely weekend cruise on your favourite uninterrupted park connector, food delivery riders constantly have to switch between cycling and walking. With each order, I’ll cycle the 1-2KM to the destination, dismount, park and lock my bike, before brisk walking through the mall or hawker centre just to reach the pick-up point. 

incentives and treasure zone for grabfood rider
Your total distance travelled might also increase if you decide to head to high-demand areas (left, marked as red rectangles) and Treasure Zone (right, green box with a treasure chest).
Image credit: Ian Ling

This constant movement can add to the fatigue, and to make matters worse, blocked-off entrances, long SafeEntry queues and far-flung bike parking in some condominiums during this period mean long distances on foot. 

But even the fittest cyclists can get drained quickly in older neighbourhoods with poor wheelchair accessibility, hilly areas, and around main roads and highways. With a fully laden bike, climbing hills and scaling stairs or overhead bridges can quickly exhaust you – especially in humid, hot or rainy weather.

grabfood rider - hilly terrain
Uphill slopes are decidedly not fun
Image credit: Ian Ling

Clocking in long hours and working on weekends

riding in the pitch black along the rail corridor
It can be quite risky to simply follow directions on Google Maps – like this time I had to travel on the pitch-dark Rail Corridor to reach my destination.
Image credit: Ian Ling

While it might be true that food delivery riders have the freedom to work whenever and wherever they want, base earnings are quite low at around $4-5 per delivery depending on the distance. In my experience, this averages about $12/hour. 

On one of my best four-hour Saturday sessions between 3-8PM, I took on 11 jobs and raked in a base salary of $62.56, which comes to a healthy $15.64/hour. But in addition to that, I secured an additional payout of $8 for completing 10 jobs on a weekend, and a bonus $28 for completing two extra incentives, adding up to $98.56, or a whopping $24.64/hour.

However, as I quickly learnt, your earnings can vary wildly. Certain incentives aren’t available on some days, demand can get unexpectedly low, or delays or even accidents might crop up along the way. A separate four-hour stint from 6-10PM netted me a mere $58.80 inclusive of $13.50 bonus.  

zones in singapore
Image credit:

Instead, many full-time riders will schedule Shift Bookings to secure guaranteed minimum earnings of about $30. They’ll have to stay online for a full three-hour shift during peak periods, and keep within specific zones like Southwest or Central. With each job completed, they’ll also earn small bonus amounts of about $2 per trip.

Riders are also encouraged to work longer hours with cash incentives for completing a minimum number of orders. On weekdays, this starts at $30 for 25 jobs – which will take just over eight hours to complete. But on weekends, you’ll only need to complete a minimum of eight jobs to hit the incentive of $8 – which takes under three hours. 

grabfood rider - delivering in condo lift
Image credit: Ian Ling

But it doesn’t stop there – these incentives get larger the more jobs you complete, topping out at a grand $115 on weekdays when you complete 80 jobs.

To maximise these incentives, some food delivery colleagues share that they maximise their earnings by working extra-long shifts on alternate days so they have time to recover. But even as I work half the hours they do, and on only one day of the week, I can feel the exhaustion take its toll on my focus and energy, especially later into the evenings.

Many riders also choose to work on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays so they can rake in higher incentives for completing fewer jobs – sacrificing hours of family time on the weekends too.

grabfood rider - doing deliveries riding in the rain
I’m fortunate enough to have the freedom to decide not to do deliveries during heavy rains, but most full-time riders rough through treacherous and uncomfortable conditions.
Image credit: Petrina Ng

Apart from the demanding hours, riders also routinely brave rough weather conditions. Grab doesn’t reward cash incentives to riders who brave the rain. Instead, riders tough it out in anticipation of higher demand from customers staying in offices and homes to avoid getting soaked.

Dealing with long waiting times and tough routes

crowd of delivery riders
Image credit: Mustsharenews

Apart from the physical demands of the job and the long hours that many full-time riders endure, delivery personnel face a handful of other obstacles that impact their earnings and even ratings.

I’m lucky enough to pick and choose my working hours, and I generally avoid lunch and dinner timeslots. The few times I’ve attempted them, restaurants are often understaffed and overwhelmed as they deal with the torrent of dine-in and delivery orders simultaneously.

Right when restaurants reopened for dine-in in August, I had to stand in a queue at dinnertime with several other riders for close to half an hour, waiting for an order to be prepared. Unfortunately, this job was part of a group order, so the other customer had to wait much longer to angrily receive her food.

Grab often combines GrabFood orders to reduce travelling time between pick-up destinations. However, riders earn slightly less for these jobs.
Image credit: Ian Ling

These group orders can also add significant delays. Additional orders often come in right as we pick up the first one, and these additional jobs sometimes require riders to make big detours.

And when it comes to delivering, not all destinations are created equal. Landed properties and ground floor units are often the most fuss-free, but HDBs require some experience to navigate – especially if there are multiple lifts serving different units within the same block.

As a GrabFood Rider, deliveries to condominiums can be tougher with security guards enforcing specific parking areas and even specific routes.
Image credit: Ian Ling

Getting around condominiums can be quite a challenge too, as security guards implement designated parking areas and even tell us to use specific entrances separate from the main ones that residents use.

But no matter where you live, it’s generally a good idea to provide specific directions like your unit number, lift lobby and even shortcuts along the way. Delivery riders constantly race against the clock, and having to pause to find our bearings or to call the customer to clarify can be frustrating.

Providing the most convenient route for your rider will be an extremely considerate thing to do – the connecting bridge would be much easier than cycling back up the five-storey-tall slope.
Image credit: Ian Ling

In one of my group order deliveries to a particularly hilly area, this lack of consideration was quite frustrating. Over the app, the first customer insisted that I head down to the lobby of the block, a full five stories downhill – despite there being a connecting bridge to the main road where all traffic comes from.

Interacting with Singaporeans of all walks of life

After registering online, a GrabFood rider has to head to Sin Min to pick up a compulsory pack ($72) that includes the GrabFood delivery box and a few sets of shirts.
Image credit: Ian Ling

As I donned my green GrabFood shirt for the first time, I felt like a completely new person. Whether on our roads, pavements or lift lobbies, we’ve all seen our fair share of food delivery personnel, but most of us seldom look beyond their bright uniforms and neon-coloured box backpacks.

The instantly recognisable blue, pink or green colours are often a great help in getting the attention of restaurant staff. Pedestrians and shoppers will also often give way – in a mall, a parent snatched his daughter out of my way once, apologetic that her swaying path was blocking me.

However, not everyone is that understanding. 

Apart from being made to take alternate entrances at some condominiums so I don’t mingle with residents, I’ve also been yelled at by security guards to park my bike further away from shopping malls.

Earlier in May, I was even attacked by a violent pedestrian who blocked my path on the sidewalk, and I had to spend a full month on hospitalisation leave for a severely sprained and fractured ankle. 

The recent spike in the news of inconsiderate cyclists seems to have made some road users aggressive toward riders
Image credit: Ian Ling

But thankfully, the vast majority of people I’ve interacted with in my time as a GrabFood rider have been kind and encouraging. 

I’ve had plenty of random chats with fellow delivery riders while waiting for orders to arrive, to share how our day has been going and to trade tips and encouragement. Fellow front-line service staff at various eateries have also been very helpful, keen to help us quickly get our orders so we can get on to the next job.

My deliveries have also taken me from Good Class Bungalows in Bukit Timah and quaint colonial properties in Wessex Estate to ageing rental HDB apartments in Queenstown. All of my customers have been gracious, and I’ve even had the chance to personally hand orders over to a handful of towkays

But strikingly, it’s the everyday, unassuming Singaporeans that show their care and respect in the most meaningful ways. Most of my tips have come from modest HDB-dwellers, and smiling uncles and aunties will give a nod in the lifts or even ask me how my day has been going.

Experiencing the life of a GrabFood rider

One of the perks of doing delivering food is constantly getting new perspectives – of beautiful sunsets, but also of fellow Singaporeans from all walks of life.
Image credit: Ian Ling

We constantly hear calls to appreciate our frontline workers, and after experiencing the life of a GrabFood rider, I simply can’t agree enough. As much as we rely on them on a regular basis, we only get to see tiny snippets of the day-to-day life of a food delivery rider.

Glimpses of the neon boxes on bikes, riders waiting for orders outside eateries, and the quick, awkward interactions at your doorstep as you grab your lunch – we don’t see most of the hidden struggles these rugged folk endure. 

The smallest of gestures, like even a tiny tip can go a long way to brighten the toughest days. But even if tipping doesn’t come naturally to us Singaporeans, a smile, a nod or a word of encouragement will definitely be appreciated and remembered for a long time.

Though I’ve only experienced a fraction of the challenges these unsung heroes face in their day-to-day, I’ve gained a better appreciation of how they endure the weather, routes, working hours – and even the nasty stares and unpleasant actions. We all can be a little kinder, more understanding to the people who make our lives that much more convenient.

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Cover image credit: Ian Ling