What a Pizza Delivery Driver Sees

Angela Nguyen talks about how her job at Domino’s in Ham Lake, Minnesota, has shown her the inner life of her community.

Angela Nguyen (Rebecca Clarke)

Pizza is big business in America: U.S. pizza sales total more than $37 billion per year for roughly 3 billion pies. According to a report by the Department of Agriculture, 13 percent of Americans eat pizza on any given day.

Delivery drivers play an important role in getting those meals to consumers. One of them, Angela Nguyen, is a delivery driver with Domino’s in Ham Lake, Minnesota. For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Nguyen about making deliveries in bad weather, why the pizza shop is such a fixture in her community, and how she deals with people who don’t tip. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Adrienne Green: How did you get started as a delivery driver with Domino’s?

Angela Nguyen: Before Domino’s, I worked for Minnesota Visiting Nurses. I did housekeeping for people with AIDS and HIV. Then they closed my department. They offered me another position with hospice, but I had a daughter that had died while I was working for Minnesota Visiting Nurses, and it was just too difficult for me to think of going to work with other people that were dying. So I left.

[About three months later,] I was looking for something part-time, and my oldest daughter was working there. I would help her out quite a bit, watching her children. I got a job at Domino’s and worked the opposite hours of her. It was flexible enough for me to watch her kids while she worked, and then for her to have her children when I went to work. I’ve been at Domino's for three years, so I work during the day now.

Green: What's an average day like for you?

Nguyen: I work about 35 hours a week. I go in and make sure that all the boxes, and the sauces for the wings, and the garlic oils for the pizzas that are needed for the day are prepped. I help out on the ovens, get the pizzas out and cut, and make deliveries to customers. There are a lot of things that go on in the shop that people probably aren't aware of.

Green: Has working at Domino's changed much over your three years?

Nguyen: Yes and no. My position has stayed pretty much the same. I've watched people come and go quite a bit, and seen the minimum wage go up, but that's about it.

Green: What is it like interacting with customers at the store and at their homes?

Nguyen: Well, I really enjoy my job. I've been there for quite a while and so I know a lot of my customers on a more personal level. I got to know one customer so well that I learned about his son that died and how his house was damaged. Another customer’s daughter just had surgery for Crohn's disease and was very, very ill and the mother was out of work. I started a GoFundMe for her, and we are getting enough donations that her mother doesn't have to worry about going back to work right now. She can just stay home and take care of her daughter. There’s more to it than just dropping off a pizza and saying, “$17.95.”

Nguyen: I think a lot of people [think it’s temporary], but for those delivery drivers that stick around and deliver to these people 10, 15, or 20 times, all of a sudden, you become more than just the pizza-delivery girl. You become an acquaintance, and then sometimes, a friend. Sometimes, we’re kind of like your bartender: If a customer is having a bad day, you might hear about it, and you listen. You might maybe bring a pizza to 7- or 8-year-old girl’s birthday party, and just singing to them might just really make their day.

Green: It sounds like the deliveries are a real form of community engagement for you. Do you consider this a career?

Nguyen: At my age, I don't want to be working evenings or weekends. I want to have that time for myself and with my job. For the most part I can make enough money to take care of what I need to. Therefore, I don't have to go out and get a second job like a lot of these younger people do.

It works for me, and I know for a fact that if the store were to disappear, there would be people out there like, “What happened to Domino's?” We've had to change our delivery area, and the people that have gotten cut out of the delivery area, they'll now be packing up in their car, driving down, and picking up their pizza. We are a big part of the community, and get a lot of regulars that come in time and time again. I know if we were gone that we'd be really missed.

Green: What's the most challenging thing about working for Domino's, or being a delivery driver, in general?

Nguyen: The weather can play a big part in making or breaking my mood as a delivery driver. We don't close down just because there's 20 inches of snow or there's ice. Sometimes, you'll get people that don't get their pizza for an hour and a half after they ordered it and they might get a little bit crabby and you just got to look at them and say, "I'm really sorry, the weather played a huge part." Hopefully, they'll understand but sometimes you just get people that are having a bad day and you have to deal with it the best you can.

When the weather is bad we get a lot more deliveries, because maybe people can't get out to the store to get dinner. Most often, people understand, but sometimes you just get the cranky person that wants to try and get a free pizza.

Green: Delivery drivers make a lot of their take-home pay in tips. Are people relatively good tippers and how do you deal with it when they’re not?

Nguyen: For the most part, people are generally decent tippers. Sometimes, you get the really good tipper, and then sometimes you get the person that doesn't tip you at all, and you have to try really hard to let that roll off your shoulders. Sometimes you'll go make two or three or four deliveries and people just aren't tipping. It happens quite often, and then it's very easy to get really crabby as a delivery driver because we don't always make enough money to cover our gas if customers aren’t tipping us. Then, we're taking money out of our pocket to deliver that pizza to you. There are always other days where you'll get really good tips all day long. The sunny days where it's bright out, you tend to get better tips. When it's dark and dreary and gloomy, tips tend to suck. It can be difficult, at times, being a delivery driver because we do rely on our tips. We don't make much money as far as a wage goes. The minimum wage in Minnesota is $9.50, but my boss actually pays me $10 an hour. There are not too many delivery drivers within Domino's, I think, that make more than minimum wage.

Green: Is there one particular delivery you’ve made that stands out to you?

Nguyen: The gentleman that we helped to get a new house, most definitely. He was living in a 10-foot trailer on his property that had no heat, electric, or water. We would deliver to him on a weekly basis, every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. That's what he would live on on the weekends because he was elderly and couldn't get Meals on Wheels. I would look forward to delivering to him and just being a little ray of sunshine to him every Saturday morning saying, "How are you doing, Lee?” Sometimes, I would stop at the store and grab him a hot cup of coffee and a doughnut before I'd go there to bring, with his pizza. He really stood out for quite some time and doesn't order for delivery anymore because he's got a stove and a refrigerator and a microwave. Yeah, he stood out for a very long time.

[Editor’s note: The video below, from a social-services organization called Human Kind, shows Nguyen assisting a customer in getting a new home after she discovered him living in a trailer without utilities.]

Green: What would you say that is the most rewarding part of you job?

Nguyen: Just seeing somebody smile or just hearing a thank you and having them know my name. “Oh, Nguyen, thanks. Nice to see you again.” They remember me as a person and not just a delivery driver.

Green: How is your work tied into your identity?

Nguyen: I've been told that I am a very loving, compassionate, and caring person by many people. In fact, my husband and I are now in the process of getting a divorce, because I do tend to put myself out there more than he thinks I should. But that's okay because that's who I am. I think that this job allows me to, in many situations, be that person.

I might see the elderly person that's having a hard time getting around, and I'll go deliver to them and pick up their mail for them or take their trash out. It just allows me to go that extra mile and do something nice for somebody and that, in turn, makes me feel good. You can't be good to somebody else without feeling good yourself. If I worked in a factory all day building parts for something, I might not get that opportunity to do that.

This interview is a part of a series about the lives and experiences of members of the American workforce, which includes conversations with a grocery cashier, an ice cream manufacturer, and a wine wholesaler.