Comparing DoorDash and Instacart


As a bit of a side hustle — to offset my expenditures on streaming services and such — and as part of my own initiative to get out of my bubble and help my social anxiety, I’ve started partaking in DoorDash and Instacart on the weekends (and sometimes Thursday and Friday, if I have extra time).

The side hustle part is obvious: It’s nice side money! I’ve long thought about doing one of these “gig economy” jobs, whether it’s Uber, DoorDash, Instacart or something else. My three main reservations: 1.) The wear and tear on my vehicle; 2.) Would the expenditure on gas make it worth it?; and 3.) Social anxiety about doing anything related to customer service.

So far, I would look at it this way. I’m not driving my vehicle on a “full-time” basis for my actual full-time job, so perhaps the “wear and tear” evens out. Same with gas. I’ll talk about the social anxiety piece later.

Obviously, the money per both DoorDash and Instacart are going to vary by your own location, orders, time spent and so forth.

Last Sunday was my first time trying DoorDash. I made six deliveries within 2 hours and 23 minutes. I made $45.50. Of that, $16.50 is the DoorDash base pay and $29.00 was the customer tip. My delivers were: McDonald’s, Applebee’s Grill and Bar, two from Jupiter Coffee & Donuts, Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli and Taco Bell.

I made a newbie mistake with my first Dash order from Taco Bell: I forgot the drink. I knew he needed a drink, but I didn’t see one at the counter when I came into Taco Bell, so I proceeded without it. Rookie mistake. Nonetheless, the guy who I delivered to was super nice about it and I simply made my other delivery, then re-routed back to Taco Bell to grab his drink and swung by his house again.

McDonald’s also deserves a special shout-out: I was concerned about the order because it involved multiple drinks, including McFlurrys, along with an extensive food order. How am I going to carry all of this?! But McDonald’s packed everything perfectly, including the drinks, to make it easier to carry.

The actual drop-off is simple enough. Go to a house or an apartment, which the apartments can be sneakier to figure out where to park and go into, and either drop the meal off at the door and take a picture of the order delivered, if it’s contactless or hand it directly to the person (that only happened once).

What I like about DoorDash is that the restaurant handles everything. I just go in and pick it up. Now, DoorDash tells you to check that all of the items are in the bag, but typically, by the time you get there, they’ve already safety sealed it (meaning, they’ve put a piece of tape with their logo across the bag, so the customer knows you haven’t tampered with it), so you can’t exactly check. Then, it’s just a matter of navigating to the house or apartment. Like I said, apartments can be kind of tricky to figure out where you’re going. And even houses, I have terrible eyes to double check the GPS to see if the house number is correct. But still, it’s easy.

And the best part? You can go for however long you want to go. My first time doing it on Sunday, I said I wanted to go for two hours. When I did it again the other night, I only went for 45 minutes, which I think is the shortest amount of time you can designate.

As with any service gig, the money is going to fluctuate, and be determined by, the amount of tips you’re getting. The base pay itself is whatever; it’s the tips that matter.

I enjoy DoorDash because the tips were good, the process was relatively easy for a rookie like me to figure out and there’s obviously a great deal of flexibility to do it when you want and how you want. You can also technically be selective with what orders you select. For instance, I denied a Chick-fil-A order because the base pay plus tip was only $3 and some change. What?! No thanks. But also, DoorDash can be a bit pushy. It notified me one time I was the best dasher to accept an order and if I declined it, my acceptance rate would drop to 92 percent. Obviously, you don’t want a low acceptance rate. But it was fine because that order was by my house anyhow.

Now, Instacart, if you’re not as familiar, is similar to DoorDash, but it’s for groceries and other items at local stores, such as Family Dollar, Michael’s, DICK’s Sporting Goods and so on. I also tried Instacart out last Sunday on the recommendation of one of my friends who was cleaning up on Instacart: He made nearly $700 in one week, almost half of that in tips alone.

But whew, I will spoiler alert you now: I’m not as into Instacart, at least not yet. It’s hard! For example, my first order was a “batch order,” where you get three different people’s groceries at once. Each person is designated with A, B and C, respectively. So, as you’re shopping for dozens of items, you’re having to make sure you are keeping them grouped accordingly. I put person’s A’s items at the front of the cart, B toward the middle and C at the other end of the cart. But there was a lot of items.

The nice thing is that Instacart’s app tries to arrange it in the most efficient way possible, so instead of having you run from one spot of the store to the next, it tries to do the items as orderly as possible. For instance, you’ll get one item from Aisle One, then Aisle Two and so on.

What makes Instacart particularly more difficult than DoorDash aside from keeping items organized (and not squishing the bread items!), is that you are the one pulling the items rather than the established McDonald’s worker for DoorDash. Now, Instacart’s app again is very nice when it comes to a place like Kroger. It will say Aisle Three, four from the bottom to help you find items. But even then, sometimes Kroger doesn’t have the item or it’s hard to find at first anyhow. When that happens, you chat with the customer via direct message in the app and ask if they would like blueberry bagels instead of the cinnamon raisin bagels Kroger doesn’t have.

Meat selections and produce are also more difficult because you want to make sure you’re getting the right one and the right weight. I’m also not as experienced in general with selecting and identifying meat or produce.

Finally, the other difficult part is that the order says it’s 40 items, but that doesn’t take into account multiples. One “item” could be a gallon of milk, but they want three gallons. I only have so much room in this cart! Sometimes it’s wild; there will be an available order for 35 items, but the pay is only $10. Who would do that?

It all just takes a while. I think that first order I did where it was three different people’s orders from the time of finding each item, checking out, driving and delivering the items took me two hours. I made $30.70, which isn’t that shabby, to be fair. Of which, the “batch” earnings base pay was $18.51 and the tips were $12.19. Obviously, as I said, these things fluctuate and can be hard to predict, but I made more in tips with DoorDash than Instacart, even though I actually did more “work” for Instacart!

The next hard thing about Instacart is that when you have those situations of delivering to an apartment, like I did yesterday and it was an enormous order, you might find yourself walking a good distance with a lot of groceries. And up a flight of stairs. I mean, I don’t mind exercise, but I’m just painting a picture of what Instacart is like. I had to make three trips. Fortunately, the customer was very sweet and she came and helped get the rest of it.

And unlike DoorDash, I had to actually talk to customer service with Instacart to cancel a batch order I had accepted. Because it was impossible! It was for Michael’s, which is a craft store and nearly every item on the lady’s list was not available. Michael’s just didn’t have them! And unlike with Kroger, Instacart’s app can’t be as precise with Michael’s (or Family Dollar, for that matter), so it’ll just say, “Back to School,” as the “section” the items are in, except Michael’s didn’t even have a “Back to School” section! I gave up after 45 minutes of traversing the store half a dozen times in frustration.

Finally, the other aspect of Instacart I don’t like is that when I’m looking at available batches, it’ll tell me that a batch is available at Kroger and it’s a Kroger that’s 1.2 miles from me. When I actually look up at the address, it’s 40 minutes away, so far more than 1.2 miles. I don’t understand how that location deal works.

Despite all of what I just laid out with Instacart, it’s still “easy” side money in the sense of I’m doing my own thing at the local grocery store and in my own vehicle and on my own time clock. Yes, I have to communicate with the customer who is the real “boss” here, but it’s still a relatively easy process all things considered. Mainly, I just need to stay away from non-grocery stores and small batch orders.

As for the social anxiety front, both DoorDash and Instacart combine a lot of the things that typically makes me socially anxious: Driving to places I’m not familiar with (it doesn’t matter if I’m using GPS), going inside restaurants, making sure I’ve got the right order or items, communicating with the restaurant people, communicating at the grocery store people, say with the Deli people, going through the cashier line instead of self-checkout and communicating in DM with the customer, as well as in person.

All of that stuff has actually been fine and the most rewarding part of doing either gig because I’ve done it without any issues. I kind of enjoy helping people, even though I’m obviously getting paid for doing so.

So, if I had to make a recommendation to you, if you only want to take up one “gig,” then I’d recommend DoorDash before Instacart based on my admittedly limited experiences thus far with both. Maybe I’ll get to a point of making the sort of good money my friend was with Instacart, but so far, DoorDash has been a more lucrative side hustle.


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