It’s a blessing in disguise

Adib Noor

Staying at home and only going out when necessary is a code that everyone needs to live by amid the second wave of COVID-19 outbreak.

With the increasing number of cases, runner services have been a popular method of delivery as restaurants and food establishments have been placed under severe restrictions.

On the other side of the spectrum, runners have their own duty, a duty to earn a living during these troubled times; a duty as a spouse, a parent; and a duty to the country to help decrease the spread by bringing food to the doorstep to keep the public at home.

“It’s somewhat a blessing in disguise, being able to find a steady income during this trying times but at the same time, there is no denying the obvious risk that I have to take during my rounds every day,” said Mohd Zulhilmi bin Dato Paduka Haji Zainal.

Zul is one of the many food dispatchers, more commonly known as “runners”, under a local food delivery business.

He has been making a living as a food runner since March 2020, and has been working for a popular food delivery app since February this year.

Mohd Zulhilmi bin Dato Paduka Haji Zainal on a delivery run. PHOTO: ADIB NOOR

With the re-introduction of COVID-19 measures on August 2, the whole nation has been affected, most notably the closures of several businesses such as fitness centres, cinemas, barbershops, while restaurants and food premises are only allowed for take-away and delivery services.

Zul explained that safety is a top priority, and that they are given guidelines to follow including contactless delivery.

“Being a family man with a little daughter at home, I make sure that I double mask, sanitise my hands wherever I go and shower as soon I get home before meeting my family or head back out on my runs,”he said.

The runner spends an average of 10-12 hours daily, six days a week.

“You spend most of your time on the road and go to places that you might not have known,” he said, jokingly comparing it to being a tourist in one’s own country.

He shared that by taking on longer shift has enabled him to earn more, especially with the the rise of customers in this second wave.

“Before the second wave, we only had a few hundred orders per day, but now it can go up to 900 orders per day.”

The operation team assigns pickups and deliveries to anyone who is available, Zul said.

“It’s a great support system when compared to my experience as a private runner where I had to put on multiple hats. I had to do the marketing, all the back-end work and there were days when I wasn’t even sure if I would have any customer,” said the runner.

Asked what it takes to be a runner, he said, “You have to be patient as you deal with different types of customers. You have to be sure of the location and plan out your route accordingly, always take extra safety precautions, be cautious and live with spending a lot of time on the road.

“It is a great source of income for those who are up for it; the more delivery you do in a day the more you earn.”

Zul said a runner can earn close to BND2,000 a month provided they put in the extra work.

“I try to hit 20 houses a day but there are days when I hit 28 houses. Personally, I don’t have a preference in terms of areas to deliver to. The further the house is from the restaurant, the higher the delivery charge,” he added.

He feels fortunate to be a part of the food delivery industry as it provides an opportunity for small food businesses, including home-based ventures, to earn an income during the pandemic.

Zul has picked up orders from several new home-based businesses, which he said is a good sign that entrepreneurship is picking up.

“There are days when I feel scared and my anxiety gets the best of me and I don’t want to report for work. But I have to put food on the table and I have to remind myself that not everyone has the same opportunity to make a living in these challenging times.”