To Deliver or Not to Deliver? The Moral Dilemma of Using Food Delivery Services During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Aside from healthcare workers, a different occupation of essential workers emerges amidst the outbreak — food delivery persons.


Cassandra Ng

Cassandra Ng ’20 believes that, though public health should be prioritized during the pandemic, financial security and economic conditions must be considered as well.

With the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, New York City’s hospital system is overwhelmed. Since mid-March 2020, thousands of New Yorkers have been practicing social distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Following social distancing measures includes the temporary closures of nonessential businesses as well as the suspension of traditional dining. More than a month after all New York City restaurants were mandated to close their doors to customers, the restaurant industry continues to make significant adjustments. 

Among the most vital resources for restaurants are food delivery apps such as Uber Eats, Seamless, Caviar, and Grub Hub. Though important to businesses across the city, the continued operation of these delivery platforms poses a moral dilemma: should food delivery apps remain open for the welfare of the economy, or should they cease operations in order to prioritize public health? 

A majority of restaurants have been turning to delivery apps to maintain their businesses, giving rise to the argument that such platforms are not only important but essential to the economy. As a result of social distancing measures enacted by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the restaurant industry has lost approximately $2 billion in revenue in just three weeks in March 2020 and is projected to lose up to $240 billion by the end of 2020. 

“People have voiced health concerns about how essential workers on the frontlines are more vulnerable to infection, but I think it’s important to recognize that financial insecurity also contributes to vulnerability and is sort of an illness in and of itself,” said Cassandra Ng ’20.

According to Eater New York, New York City alone employs more than 350,000 people in the hospitality industry.” The total closure of restaurants and other related industries combined would not only mean hundreds of thousands of unstable furloughs in the workforce, but also permanent layoffs from employers who cannot pay their employees. According to data collected by the Department of Labor, since the coronavirus calamity began, 1.2 million New Yorkers have already filed for unemployment as of mid-April, with 248,355 of those claims filed by those in the accommodation and food services industries. 

Despite the federal government’s $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, which allocated $349 billion for businesses, the Paycheck Protection Program, or the small business loan program, quickly ran out of money and even temporarily stopped accepting applications after just thirteen days on April 16th, 2020. This is partly attributed to a provision in the package that allowed major chains such as Shake Shack to dip into relief funds and extract millions of dollars in federal bailouts while many small businesses were left waiting for weeks empty-handed. According to a survey conducted in early April by the National Federation of Independent Business, 70% of 300,000 small business owners were actively applying for low-interest loans. However, the United States Small Business Association claims that only 9% of loan approvals have been granted to the food services industry. 

Though the situation continues to evolve, it is clear that the federal government and businesses alike are struggling to compensate for the inequity and drastic loss in business revenue due to the pandemic. 

As the economy continues to decline, it is pertinent that businesses are given options to remain open and running. There are, of course, health risks to be weighed when continuing delivery services and keeping restaurants in operation. Of the risks, one of the biggest surrounds the safety of both the delivery person and the customer in a door delivery or pickup.  

“In any interaction, there’ll always be some inherent risk, pandemic or not. The delivery person is only handing off the order and is usually in contact with just the customer. I believe that this is arguably safer than grocery stores, even ones where social distancing is being observed,” said Adam Chong ’20.

Although many consumers are skeptical of the safety of food delivery and pickup, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the coronavirus is not transmittable through food, food containers, or food packaging. The alternative, grocery shopping,  presents the possibility of multiple interactions as opposed to one, which may increase a shopper or a worker’s risk of infection. According to a poll done by meal planning service eMeals, “average grocery spending for the week of [March 18th to the 23rd] came in at $253, up 55% over respondents’ normal weekly purchases.” The increase in Americans’ monthly consumer spending on groceries explains supply struggling to meet skyrocketing demand. In efforts to curtail employee exposure, many stores have limited customer counts by large fractions, resulting in long lines and empty shelves from stockpiling. 

Although there are grocery delivery services such as Amazon’s Fresh Direct, it is currently “nearly impossible” to reserve slots for such scheduled services in New York City due to a 150 percent increase in orders. Unlike grocery store shopping, many restaurant delivery services have adapted new measures such as “contactless delivery,” where food is delivered to a customer without any human interaction, usually on the customer’s porch or near their residence. Following Governor Cuomo’s social distancing guidelines, many delivery persons are equipped with masks and gloves when making deliveries as well. 

According to, approximately 98% of the 220,000 businesses in New York City are small businesses and employ nearly half of the city’s workforce. In a recent survey conducted by the Census Bureau, it was observed that 68% of New York state’s restaurant employees work for a small business. Given the large volume of restaurants concentrated in New York City, the amount of those employees who work for small businesses is encouragingly high. Considering the evidence of uncertain federal assistance given to small businesses across the United States, it is crucial that restaurants are given viable means of keeping business going, and that is through the implementation of delivery services. 

In critical times like these, it is just as important to remain both careful and considerate of others. To many, this means social distancing and showing avid support for healthcare professionals. Perhaps incredibly overlooked are delivery persons and restaurant employees, who also work hard in order to provide others the comfort of enjoying a meal in the safety of their own home. 

“I think this pandemic has highlighted the importance of essential workers in our society. It calls into question a lot of our current policies regarding hazard pay and minimum wage,” said Ng. 

Though we must remain distant, I hope you may hold all essential workers close to your hearts.

“I think this pandemic has highlighted the importance of essential workers in our society. It calls into question a lot of our current policies regarding hazard pay and minimum wage,” said Ng.