Here’s a little photo essay for my Glasgow in lockdown project about the visual prominence of takeaway delivery riders back in the times of a strict quarantine when streets were deserted, the urban desolation broken only by rare passers by, solitary dog walkers and many-many cyclists swishing back and forth with their distinctive branded Deliveroo and Just East backpacks.
It was John who first drew my attention to how many food delivery drivers cycled along the Clyde Walkway and crossed the bridges when we were out for our daily exercise walks. We are not into takeaways – normally we have a nice M&S meal as an alternative to my home cooking or go out for dinner. Even the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of local eating out places did not induce us to order food online, despite multiple pizza leaflets pushed through our door. So somehow the “new normal” increased presence of takeaway cyclists on the streets escaped my visual awareness.
Once they were brought to my attention, I suddenly started seeing them everywhere – passing through St Enoch Square to the High Street and back, docked outside Tesco’s to fulfil clients’ grocery orders, going up in our lift to deliver a curry to our neighbours, dropping by a burger place around the corner to pick up someone’s takeaway.
When the Clyde waterfront became too densely packed with people for comfort, we started venturing into the neighbouring city centre that was the very opposite of crowded and felt safer.
Buchanan Street stayed eerily empty and a bit shabby, all retail closed, and many shop fronts boarded to prevent vandalism. But we could count 15-20 drivers, traversing the former Style Mile on ordinary bicycles, scooters and electric bikes even in the short span we were out. And with absence of cars, they were the only ones waiting for their turn at the traffic lights of the previously busy Argyle/Union Street crossing.
At the same time I suddenly noticed huge Deliveroo app adverts with a hand holding a pizza slice on the sides of bus stations and Pizza Boy‘s monochrome paste up graffiti creations across Glasgow, acknowledging the lockdown takeaway phenomenon.
At first I suspected myself of having the Baader-Meinhof complex. Was it indeed the notorious frequency illusion cognitive bias that made me more aware of takeaway delivery riders on Glasgow streets? Or was it an objective reflection of food industry adapting to the new reality and the customers’ behavioural changes?
Indeed, unable to eat out under the lockdown restrictions and experiencing home cooking fatigue, seeking to shake things up and have a treat, people resorted to ordering takeaway meals more frequently. The food delivery industry had to face huge demand. More drivers were hired, their working hours increased in the rush to get all the orders done.
New non-contact delivery measures to reduce the risk of infection were introduced by Deliveroo, as well as Just Eats, making clients feeling reassured about their safety. More alcohol was ordered online due to COVID-19, and Deliveroo diversified by offering to deliver groceries from supermarkets. Takeaway orders increased to cater for NHS staff and key workers.
At the same time, aided by the government that removed the red tape to aid the struggling food sector, many restaurants and pubs that never offered takeaways before started offering non-contact pick up and signed up for delivery services for the first time.
By mid-May some fast food chains, such as KFC, reopened for takeaway service and online orders pick up only. The smaller chains and independents joined them. Thus, Glasgow Times reported the reopening of the Five Guys burger restaurant on St Vincent Street for delivery and click and collect.
We were on our new round-the-block Buchanan/St Vincent/Union Street/home routine walk, when the monotony of empty streets was interrupted by a flock of Deliveroo riders picking orders from The Five Guys restaurant. I was amazed and excited to see how busy the place, offering a burger with 250,000 fresh topping combinations, seemed. The entrance was blocked by a large table and a sign divided a small queue of self pick up customers and the riders into separate streams. A cyclist took a break around the corner whilst still checking his orders, others came and went in a human wave.
I had a long telephoto lens on me and stopped safely on the opposite side of the street for ten minutes to record this slice of life under the lockdown and add a bit of ad hoc photojournalism flavour to the story. (Note: Long lenses tend to create an optical illusion flattening perspectives and distances – all social distancing rules were adhered to!)
The pandemic interrupted most of Glasgow urban flows – shoppers, tourists, transport, commuters, restaurant goers, pub drinkers and hotel guests – indeed rendering Glasgow a “City Interrupted”. But to me those hard working takeaway delivery riders traversing the streets exposed the still operational and effective urban flow of food – even in lockdown.