Adrian Gonzalez has worked as a delivery man at D’ La Abuela for almost two years now. He delivers the creole food that this business sells to customers’ homes. He has fixed working hours, which coincide with the place’s own opening hours, and his working day varies and is “unstable” because it depends on demand. “There are good and bad days; Sundays are generally quite busy, the beginning of the week is slower,” he says.
According to the young man, his job isn’t only limited to making food deliveries. “We are the face of the restaurant, almost like sales assistants; so we have to be friendly, greet customers, look good.”
At the D’ La Abuela paladar (restaurant), home delivery is an essential service, as it doesn’t have the conditions needed for customers to eat at the restaurant, unlike other food businesses.
“We only have the conditions for this,” manager Alberto Pablos Pascual explained in late 2019, who also added that sometimes customers go there to pick up their orders.
According to Alberto, before starting up a business like this one, the presence of potential customers was assessed, and they decided to make simple, creole food, although it isn’t “of poor quality because of this”.
When talking about the delivery people, he clarified: “they aren’t members of our staff, they have their own delivery license and they use their own form of transport; nevertheless, they transport food in our business’ containers.”
Adrian and other delivery people are paid depending on how far they have to go to make these food deliveries. And this is calculated using preestablished rates that vary depending on the business. They don’t receive a steady income.
Even though D’ L Abuela and other food businesses form part of the A la Mesa Online Directory of Cuban Restaurants and some of them receive orders on this platform from residents living abroad for their relatives or friends on the island, there isn’t a digital app to place orders in Cuba, such as the business model that Rappi, Uber Eats, Glovo, Just Eat and other applications worldwide use for this purpose.
If somebody wants to order food at a Cuban restaurant or cafe with home delivery, then this is normally what happens: they dial the business’ phone or cellphone number, which they would have found in a directory like A la Mesa or from somebody else, somebody takes down the order, asks for the customer’s name, address and tells them how long they will have to wait, which is rarely more than half an hour.
The delivery person comes into play when the food is ready. They place the order on their ride (nearly always a moped), they put on their helmet and other available protection devices and they begin their journey. If the delivery goes as planned, this cycle will repeat itself until the end of their working shift.
And yes, most delivery people in this “industry” are men in Cuba.
Reaching more customers with home delivery
During the nearly five years Pollo Bell has been open, it has strived “to offer customers a quality service.” Under this premise, they decided to start offering a home delivery service some years ago.
“We didn’t have this option in the beginning, but then we decided to try it out and it’s been successful up until now. We tried it out because there were people who weren’t willing to come all the way here, and we also wanted to reach this customer group,” Sara, one of the restaurant managers, told us last year. Pollo Bell is located in Havana’s Playa neighborhood, just like D’ La Abuela is.
“People picked up on our punctuality, the quality of the delivery service, and that’s how we began to mark our place in this market,” she added.
Two delivery people work for Pollo Bell, who also have a license that allows them to work freelance, and their wages vary depending on many deliveries they make and how far they have to travel. “All of the products we sell are available for home delivery, and we don’t even increase prices,” Sara explains.
That means that the customer orders a product which costs 10 CUC, for example, and when they receive it, they have to pay 10 CUC plus the delivery rate.
Delivery people at both Pollo Bell and D’ La Abuela use their own mopeds (mostly electric) and some of them have a diesel engine, but they consume very little per kilometer. This means that fuel shortages in the country don’t affect or hardly affect their work.
Delivery people don’t only make food deliveries
Marta Deus is one of the founders of a successful delivery business. “Mandao was born three years ago as Mandao Express, but the demands of customers today led us to relaunch it last September as a more innovative service. That’s why we are Mandao today, with a new business logo, design and strategy,” she explains in an email.
“We focus on home deliveries (or wherever customers need a delivery) of food and restaurant merchandise, without neglecting other items, because we are a company that transports products no matter what they are, as long as they help another business or person. It is our mission to try and resolve an extra burden for Cubans, especially in terms of transport.”
Unlike other businesses, Deus has the requirements for delivery people clear: over 18 years of age, with a driving and self-employment license, a willingness to work, respect, punctuality and responsibility. Furthermore, modes of transport range from bikes to cars here.
“We make sure that people making the deliveries are well-equipped and uphold Mandao’s ethical and safety regulations. We have a team that manages this service, but they also make deliveries. We have earned our long-term customer’s confidence and we have an exhaustive selection process, where potential candidates need to carry out a series of tests before joining our team.
“Mandao doesn’t sell products, it only transports them, so the business’ spirit is placed within our delivery people, who, equipped with comfortable backpacks ensure that products are transported in quality conditions because they have thermal compartments inside, ensuring the product reaches the customer in the best condition, which also ensures the safety of our delivery people. (…) Deliveries (…) include any product, except for money and postal services, which are banned by law, Negolution magazine sums up.
Javier Munoz tells us on WhatsApp that he has been working for Mandao for four months now, but that he worked as a delivery man at a “small pizza and hamburger business” before.
“You work as much as there are orders. I’m normally available two days a week from 11 AM to 11 PM and I have two days off in between,” the young 27-year-old explains, who adds that he makes his deliveries with an electric moped. “But I’ve made deliveries on a bike, whatever is needed to complete the delivery,” he says. Javier feels looked after at Mandao. He believes he is a dynamic person, that he likes to be constantly moving and this is an ideal job for someone like he describes; “plus, it pays well.”
Still an expensive option for many
There is no data to tell us how many people are currently using food delivery services on the island, however, it is becoming more and more common, especially in Havana.
Jose says that he can’t use this kind of service, because it is very expensive compared to his wages: “I might one day because I can understand that it is very convenient, but I see it as an extra expense which I can’t make right now,” he says at the entrance to Coppelia.
Karla has ordered pizzas a few times. The pizzeria is close to her home and “the delivery service rate is nothing compared to how convenient it is to not have to leave your home and have your food in good hands.”
Home delivery services in Cuba are still an option for the very few.