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DoorDash drivers: Tech glitches bedevil the meal delivery service

Technical problems are frustrating drivers and could lead to late, cold, or lost orders.

DoorDash drivers: Tech glitches bedevil the meal delivery service
[Source photos: Griffin Wooldridge/Unsplash; Anna Hill/Unsplash]

Matthew Ervin delivers meals several days a week for DoorDash in Seattle. A few months ago, he had just picked up an order at Buffalo Wild Wings, when the dispatch system went down. With information about his destination no longer visible, Ervin couldn’t take the delivery to his customer. Nor could he take any other orders until the system came back online—three hours later.

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Ervin says he’s often unable to start or complete a delivery because the company’s dispatch system fails. “It’s a regular, weekly occurrence,” he says. Fridays are the worst, says Ervin, who’s been delivering for DoorDash since 2018.

System crashes can be crippling for DoorDash’s army of delivery drivers—called dashers—whose every move is dictated by algorithms. And they affect customers whose orders are either lost or delivered late and cold.

“Customers will freak out, [asking] ‘Why hasn’t my order been delivered?'” says Stephanie Adams, a dasher in Morehead City, North Carolina. “Well, it’s not delivered because we can’t see it.” She recalls a system crash from summer 2021 that lasted two hours.

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Dashers are paid by the delivery, not by the hour. So time lost to outages means money lost. And in addition to dealing with outages, dashers using the company’s Android app have long had to contend with glitches, such as missing delivery information, which further cut into their ability to make deliveries, and get paid.

DoorDash acknowledges that there have been more issues with its Android app than the iOS version, although the company claims that performance has improved in recent months. The company did not address the issue of systemwide outages, despite multiple requests for comment.

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Faulty tech is often to blame for glitchy orders, according to our interviews with dashers. Their claims are backed up by voluminous user reviews of the DoorDash Driver app and by social media posts from dashers, especially in Reddit’s 126,000-member DoorDash Drivers group.

“You might be in the middle of an order . . . using in-app navigation, which means you might not have the address and the ability to even physically complete the order,” explains Lyle Wilner, a dasher in San Diego. “So whatever you’re doing, you are unable to proceed.” Outages can last from 15 minutes to an entire day, and large outages occur as often as every week, he says.

Some of this is beyond DoorDash’s control. Last December 7, for instance, its cloud provider, Amazon Web Services, went down for several hours—affecting many major companies, including Netflix and Delta Airlines. But DoorDash’s problems extend beyond the AWS crashes. A search for “outage” on Reddit’s DoorDash Drivers page yields about 200 results, many beyond that December AWS crash. Additional drivers we spoke to recount outages from other months, as well.

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Quan, a dasher in Orange County, California, has similar stories to Ervin’s and Wilner’s. (He asked that we not publish his last name, for fear of DoorDash retaliating.) He describes weekly outages on the dispatch system, although he says that breakdowns have been less frequent in recent months. Wilner also says the outage situation has gotten better.

Both Quan and Wilner are multi-appers—switching between DoorDash and other gig platforms, including Uber Eats and Grubhub. “Of all the apps out there, DoorDash is the most faulty,” says Quan.

There are some data to back up these dasher accounts: Downdetector, which crowdsources user-submitted reports of app and website outages, provides 24-hour snapshots showing the number of incidents reported, in 15-minute increments. (Downdetector declined to provide longer-term trend data to Fast Company, also a request for an interview.)

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DoorDash outage reports
Downdetector’s DoorDash outage reports from the morning of February 15.

Checking Downdetector over a 10-day period (from January 23 to February 1) showed considerably more user outage reports for DoorDash than for Uber Eats and Grubhub. (More recent spot checks showed a similar pattern.) Downdetector counts the number of reports each person submits, so multiple reports could correspond to the same outage.

January 26 was a typical day. Uber Eats and Grubhub outage reports never reached 20, while DoorDash reports hit 75. The previous day, DoorDash outage reports had soared to 377. (One notable exception to the trends among providers: On January 27, Uber Eats reports briefly skyrocketed to 3,898. There were no significant AWS outages in that time period.)

Uber Eats outage reports
Downdetector’s Uber Eats outage reports from the morning of February 15.

These differences could be a result of scale. DoorDash dominates the food-delivery business in the U.S., accounting for 58% of sales in January, according to Bloomberg Second Measure, so one outage can impact a larger number of dashers, meal deliveries, and customers. Uber Eats took 24% of the market, and Grubhub 15%.

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A buggy app

Along with outages affecting the dispatch system, the DoorDash Android app for drivers is buggy, say many dashers. A quick search on Reddit found over a dozen recent discussions of technical problems. They include freezes and crashes, buttons that don’t work, and assignments that are abruptly ended.

Reddit post about DoorDash app
A post in r/doordash_drivers from January 13.

The DoorDash Driver app for Android has a 2.9-star rating on Google Play, and technical complaints abound. The situation isn’t any better for Grubhub, which scores 2.8 stars. Uber’s driver app, which handles both rideshare and Uber Eats, has a 3.9-star rating. On the other hand, the DoorDash driver app for iOS scores 4.7 stars in Apple’s App Store.

Tyler Nguyen, a dasher in St. Charles County, Missouri, recently switched from an iPhone—on which he says the DoorDash app had only minor problems—to a Samsung Android device. “The Android app for DoorDash is abysmal,” he says.

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The app is frequently missing critical information that Nguyen needs to complete his orders. “It’ll just say, like, ‘McDonald’s’ . . . but it will not show the route, nor will it show the mileage,” he says. “So I have to just sit there. Sometimes it does load, sometimes it doesn’t.”

DoorDash app Google Play review
A typical DoorDash Driver app user review from Google Play.

Nguyen and others have resorted to kludges to get past malfunctions, such as clicking back and forth between screens in the app. Often they have to force-quit the program. Quan says he has even needed to restart his phone. These app glitches may pose a hazard to dashers who have to contend with them while driving.

In an email to Fast Company, DoorDash spokesperson Lisa Singh said, “We’re not aware of anything recently that caused problems for Dashers on Android in particular.” This is backed up, she explained, by internal ratings and reports by drivers showing steady app improvement since November. “In fact, fewer people are mentioning issues with the app, and those who are mentioning it are less frustrated than they were late last year,” said Singh.

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Drivers we spoke to haven’t noticed improvement yet, even after recent updates.

DoorDash describes an extensive system for testing and evaluating the quality of its apps. These include a “dedicated group of product managers, engineers, and operations employees who work on triaging issues,” said Singh. The company also has a group with hundreds of dashers who get early releases of the app to provide feedback.

Issues, such as freezes and crashes, occur mostly on older Android phones, said Singh. In addition, the wider variety of Android phones—with more screen sizes and amounts of memory, for instance—makes it harder to polish the app on Android than for iPhones, she said.

Drivers we spoke to haven’t noticed improvement yet, even after recent updates. “The app has always been extremely buggy and unstable,” says Wilner. Reddit, as well as Google Play, are still rife with recent complaints.

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And Wilner’s experience contradicts what DoorDash says about older phones. He uses a OnePlus 8—a phone that debuted in April 2020. Quan has a OnePlus 8 Pro, which came out at the same time. Tyler Nguyen, who calls the DoorDash Android app “a shitshow,” just bought a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3—a model from August 2021. Meanwhile, Matthew Ervin has 2020’s iPhone 12 Pro Max. These dashers’ experiences all challenge the claims that most problems are limited to old Android phones.

And after what may have been a lull in system outages, DoorDash suffered significant downtime on February 15, say Ervin and Wilner. Downdetector also reported “possible problems” that day.

DoorDash claims to be making strides on its technical challenges, and the number of outages may have declined in recent weeks. But app complaints remain, and it’s not clear if DoorDash has conclusively resolved the issue of dispatch system downtime. So if your order gets mangled, the blame might not fall on your dasher, who may be doing one thing nobody wants to do: wrestling with a balky app.

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About the author

Sean Captain is a business, technology, and science journalist based in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter @seancaptain.

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