DoorDash is the most popular food delivery app in the United States, beating out competitors Grubhub and Uber Eats. If you live in or near a city of any size, it probably operates in your backyard. Maybe you’ve even used DoorDash to order from your favorite restaurant.
If you’re at all familiar with DoorDash, you know it’s not a one-way street. Without its thousands-strong crew of hard-hustling delivery folks, called Dashers, the app wouldn’t work, and the world would be a little hungrier for it.
As DoorDash grows, so too do the ranks of Dashers. You may have what it takes to become a Dasher if you have:
- Access to a personal vehicle (car, bike, or scooter)
- A valid driver’s license
- Valid insurance
- An ability and desire to hustle in your spare time
According to DoorDash, Dashers may earn $15 to $20 per hour – and perhaps even more during peak periods when DoorDash may issue “Busy Pay” bonuses. Fuel costs and vehicle expenses inevitably reduce take-home earnings, but Dashing is still pretty lucrative compared with other popular sharing economy gigs.
Should you apply to become a Dasher? Let’s find out.
What Dashers Do
The short version: Dashers pick up prepared food orders – and, in some cases, other goods – from DoorDash partner merchants and deliver those orders to customers.
The slightly longer version, in sequential order:
- The Dasher logs into the DoorDash app, either at their convenience or at the start of a shift they’ve previously scheduled in the app.
- The Dasher chooses to accept or decline orders they receive from the app.
- When the Dasher accepts an order, they travel to the merchant to pick it up.
- When the order is ready, the Dasher pays with their Red Card, a DoorDash-issued reloadable prepaid card. When necessary – for instance, at cash-only restaurants – DoorDash can facilitate cash payments to merchants, but it isn’t as common.
- The Dasher brings the order to the customer. If the Dasher needs to contact the customer – for instance, to let them know there’s a delay at the restaurant or to navigate secure building entry – they can use the in-app contact function.
- The Dasher hands the order off to the customer. If the order is cash on delivery, the Dasher accepts cash from the customer and enters the payment in the app.
- The Dasher marks the order complete in the app. Success!
This process assumes a relatively smooth delivery. If the merchant can’t find an order placed through the app or the customer is unreachable, the Dasher may need to contact DoorDash’s service team to work on a solution. In rare cases, the order may need to be canceled.
Dashers can choose weekly or daily payouts. Pay always consists of:
- A base pay rate of at least $1 per delivery
- 100% of customer tips (given at the customer’s sole discretion)
Pay may also include:
- Busy Pay bonuses for working during peak periods
- Incentive payments for meeting certain temporary criteria set by DoorDash (such as a minimum completion rate)
- Guaranteed Earnings promotions for new Dashers who sign up through a unique page
Each DoorDash order has a minimum guaranteed payment, which varies by order. If the combined total of base pay, customer tips, and incentive payments doesn’t reach the minimum, DoorDash issues a payment boost to make up the difference.
How to Become a Dasher
Intrigued by what you’ve read so far? Here’s what you need to apply to become a Dasher, and what to expect from the application process.
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have an iPhone or Android smartphone capable of running the DoorDash app
- Provide a valid Social Security number
- Have a suitable vehicle – depending on the market, this may mean a car (any make or model in working condition will do), motorcycle, scooter, or bike
- Have valid insurance on the vehicle if required by law
- Have a valid driver’s license and insurance if they’ll be driving
Signup & Approval
DoorDash’s application process is pretty straightforward. To get started, you’ll enter some basic personal information – name, phone number, and ZIP code – and consent to receive email and text notifications from DoorDash.
If DoorDash is accepting applications in your area – depending on demand, it may pause acceptance from time to time, but it’s usually temporary – you’ll need to provide your Social Security number and more detail about your vehicle.
You’ll then select one of two onboarding options:
- A virtual orientation that walks you through the basics of Dashing
- A home-delivered “activation kit” that includes a hot bag to keep food warm, your Red Card, and an orientation manual. The activation kit takes one to four business days to arrive, according to DoorDash.
If you choose to receive an activation kit, you won’t need to complete a virtual orientation. In larger markets, you may have the option to pick up your kit at a physical DoorDash office.
Next, you’ll need to download and install the Dasher app, activate your Red Card, complete a W-9 taxpayer identification form, and set up direct deposit. Once you’ve completed these steps, DoorDash will active your Dasher app and clear you to begin Dashing.
Advantages of Dashing for DoorDash
What sets DoorDash apart from other side hustle opportunities? For starters:
1. You Don’t Need Your Own Car
This is one of DoorDash’s signature advantages relative to popular gig economy apps such as Uber and Lyft. Although every market is different, most support alternative vehicles such as motorcycles, scooters, and pedal-powered cycles. If you’re content to live without a car or simply don’t have consistent access to a working car, Dashing may still be in your future.
2. You Can Earn Bonus Pay During Peak Hours
DoorDash issues bonus and incentive payments during periods of peak customer demand – usually during the lunch and dinner rushes, though the exact timing and volume depend on the market. A typical incentive might be something like: “Be active in the Dasher app in [your market] between 11:30am and 2pm, accept 80% of orders during that time, and complete at least three orders to receive $2 extra per order.”
To capture incentives, you may need to move between markets or submarkets. For instance, one example DoorDash provides distinguishes between three California Bay Area markets: San Francisco, Fremont/Union City/Hayward/Castro Valley, and Oakland/Berkeley/Alameda. It’s up to you to determine whether the added drive time is worth the bonus.
3. Peak Hours Often Fall During Extended Business Hours
This is another key advantage over ride-sharing apps whose peak hours often fall on weekend evenings and early mornings. Late-night restaurants notwithstanding, DoorDash’s highest order volumes are likely to occur around lunchtime and dinnertime, making this gig if not quite 9-to-5, then not too far off.
4. DoorDash Is Widespread & Growing
DoorDash operates in virtually every major U.S. metro, many second- and third-tier metros, and a fair number of smaller college towns and rural hubs. You likely live in or close enough to a DoorDash market to make Dashing viable. The same can’t be said for some other popular courier apps, whose coverage may be thin or nonexistent outside the 50 or so largest U.S. metros.
Considerations for Prospective DoorDash Drivers
Dashing is a great way to earn a side income on your own schedule, but it’s not a perfect side gig; no side gig is. Before applying, consider:
1. The Implications of Independent Contractor Status
DoorDash classifies Dashers as independent contractors, not traditional W-2 employees. The advantages of working as an independent contractor are clear: you have more control over your working hours, environments, and (at least in theory) earning potential.
But independent contractors don’t enjoy all the same legal rights as traditional employees, such as protection from certain types of discrimination and coverage under minimum wage laws – though DoorDash’s minimum guaranteed payouts often exceed the local minimum wage when converted to hourly rates.
Moreover, independent contractors must:
- Manage Their Own Income Tax Obligations. DoorDash doesn’t withhold income tax from Dashers’ payouts. Dashers are responsible for calculating their own income tax liabilities (which involves accounting for actual and expected earnings and expenses), setting aside funds to cover those expected obligations, and making quarterly estimated tax payments (federal and state, if applicable) to avoid interest and penalties.
- Pay Self-Employment Tax. Dashers earning more than $400 per year on the DoorDash app may be subject to self-employment tax, which comes out to roughly 15.3% of their income from Dashing. (Dashers who earn an income through other gig economy apps must pay self-employment tax on those apps’ earnings too.) By contrast, W-2 workers generally pay just half the self-employment tax rate, with their employers picking up the remainder. For situation-specific information, speak with a tax professional or consult IRS Topic Number 554.
- Cover Their Own Expenses Out of Pocket. Independent contractors, including Dashers, are typically held responsible for paying work-related expenses out of pocket. For instance, DoorDash does not reimburse Dashers’ fuel or vehicle maintenance costs, which inevitably reduces their take-home pay. Fortunately, most expenses incurred by independent contractors are tax-deductible – see this list from Intuit – but the deduction is far from a one-to-one reimbursement. Dashers do better when they operate like miniature business enterprises, using apps such as MileIQ and Everlance to track common expenses ahead of tax time, even if they choose not to formally incorporate.
- Deal With One-Off Expenses. DoorDash does not reimburse road tolls, parking fees, parking tickets, or traffic tickets. Reduce the risk of tickets by driving and parking responsibly, and take the DoorDash app’s toll-avoidance suggestions to heart. You’ll get better at consistently avoiding parking fees with time. Generally, it’s best to avoid Dashing by car in commercial areas with limited or nonexistent free parking. If you Dash in a congested urban core, there’s a good chance you’ll be more efficient on a bike or scooter, anyway.
2. The Learning Curve
Like any new gig, DoorDash comes with a learning curve. As someone who’s worked as a delivery driver, I can tell you that Dashes one through nine won’t be as quick or efficient as Dashes 101 through 109.
But that’s OK. The important thing is that you go into the process with the understanding that you’ll learn and improve over time. Every Dasher starts somewhere.
3. Personal Vehicle Expenses
Dashing puts extra miles on your personal vehicle, whether it’s a car, motorcycle, scooter, or cycle. That means wear and tear, which means potential maintenance and repairs that otherwise wouldn’t be necessary. Precisely how much more you’ll spend on your vehicle depends on factors such as:
- The vehicle type (car, motorcycle, scooter)
- The make and model (foreign cars typically cost more to maintain and repair)
- How much you Dash
- The condition of the roads you’re Dashing on
- The type of driving you’re doing (highway driving is gentler on vehicles than driving on congested surface streets)
Again, these expenses will eat into your take-home pay. It’s up to you to determine whether the additional wear and tear on your vehicle is worth the cost and headache. For many Dashers, it is.
4. Order Volume & Dasher Competition in Your Area
Not all DoorDash markets are created equal. In markets with fewer – or sparser – customers and merchants, Dashers may earn less per hour than their counterparts in livelier markets. On the other hand, competition among Dashers may be lower in slower markets, which may make for busier, more lucrative Dashing sessions. There’s no way to know for sure until you’ve been Dashing for a while.
5. Factors That May Lengthen Completion Times
As a former delivery driver, I’m well-versed in all that can stand in the way of a smooth order. At one time or another, every Dasher will have to deal with:
- Traffic. No matter where you Dash, traffic will be an issue, whether it’s due to road construction, crashes, or plain old congestion. If you Dash during peak driving periods, such as the evening rush hour, traffic will be worse. Keep this in mind when projecting your potential earnings.
- Parking. If you Dash for merchants located in congested urban areas or busy suburban shopping centers, parking will be an issue. You may find yourself paying for parking – which DoorDash won’t reimburse you for – or competing for parking spots. Plan accordingly.
- Merchant Delays. During peak periods, merchants may struggle to keep up with order volume, and you may find yourself waiting at the pickup counter for the kitchen to finish your order. Although it’s impossible to completely avoid order delays, experienced Dashers may learn to decline orders from consistently backed-up merchants.
- Faraway Customers. Dashers working larger territories may find themselves driving five or 10 miles one way to complete an order. In the interest of maintaining an acceptable completion rate, you may need to accept some orders that take longer than you’d like; DoorDash’s minimum pay guarantee is, in part, designed to compensate for these situations.
6. How DoorDash Evaluates You
In the interest of quality control, DoorDash continually evaluates Dashers. Dashers who fail to meet minimum quality standards may be subject to deactivation, though DoorDash typically issues formal warnings to failing Dashers before kicking them off the app.
Three Dasher metrics are particularly important:
- Dasher Rating. This is the aggregate of customer-generated Dasher quality ratings. After receiving their completed order, the customer rates their Dasher on a scale of one to five. Dashers with low aggregate ratings may be subject to deactivation.
- Acceptance Rate. This is the rate at which the Dasher accepts orders in the app. Although it’s not clear that DoorDash has a minimum acceptance rate, Dashers with meager acceptance rates – those who consistently decline multiple orders before accepting one – may risk deactivation. Dashers who appear to be idle may be logged out of the app automatically.
- Completion Rate. Dashers are expected to complete every accepted order, even when things don’t go smoothly. DoorDash adjudicates serious issues on a case-by-case basis – when the restaurant fails to prepare an order and refuses to make it up, for instance. However, Dashers whose completion rates fall below 70% may be subject to deactivation.
These aren’t groundbreaking metrics. Still, you’ll want to understand how they work before signing up for DoorDash and accepting orders. The onboarding process is designed to address common questions, but if you’re unsure about something, it never hurts to reach out to DoorDash’s support team.
Some people Dash for fun. Others do it to reach a savings goal, such as a much-needed vacation or a down payment on a home. Still others work it around their studies, content to earn a few hundred discretionary bucks per month.
There’s no right or wrong reason to Dash. You don’t even need a car of your own to get started. And as your own boss, you’re free to dial back or quit Dashing altogether if you find it’s not working for you. So why not give it a try? Sign up to become a Dasher today.
Are you a DoorDash Dasher? What do you like about it?