An App a day does not keep Hunger Away
By Sanjay Pinto

Are you so heartless that you would make a big deal of a hungry man taking a few spoonfulls of food you ordered online? Or do you mind having saliva mixed with your food? Two distinct ways of viewing the recent viral video of a Zomato delivery executive helping himself to food ordered by customers and then sealing the boxes.

 As a lawyer, I am not quick to judge others. Consider these possibilities. Could he have been merely eating a portion from what he had ordered for himself or his family? Is there a bar on delivery executives or their families using the app for themselves? Or from a cancelled order that he had intended to pay for later? Or could this incident have been planted by the competition? The answer, it turned out, was none of the above. And how do we know that? Because Zomato and the executive in question were honest enough to own up to a human error. The company sacked the agent citing its “zero tolerance policy for tampering of food”, which it added was a “highly unusual and rare case.”

If we are to dispassionately view this incident, none of us as customers would want to eat what was technically leftovers. Had the executive knocked off a portion from the pack into a plate or another vessel and then eaten it, it may have been an issue of pilferage, not contamination, a problem of quantity and not hygiene. That he ate a portion from the same bowl and kept it back was what caused an aversion. And many ‘yucks’ on the social media.

When content goes viral in this social media age, with people driven to instant conclusions, the damage to the brand is severe. I’m just wondering if firing the agent was the only way forward. This was caught on camera. How can we be so sure that it isn’t a regular practice? If it is, why does it happen? It happens because you send hungry human beings with loads of delicious food to deliver. It happens because these people are probably underpaid, with remuneration that was initially attractive but was just a bait, and later varied to their disadvantage. It happens because they probably took loans to buy two wheelers and smart phones, a pre-requisite for hiring, and are now struggling to make ends meet. It happens because riding through our chaotic traffic in pouring rain or scorching heat and ensuring a stipulated number of deliveries on time, or risk losing a little extra money as incentives, can be stressful; and stress induces hunger. It happens because of basic curiosity to taste fancy sounding food items that they may not have heard of before. It happens because we are all human.

As a little boy, my late mother Judith Pinto used to tell me stories about how employees in chocolate factories were given the freedom to eat any amount of the stuff they made.They, and their families too, would soon grow tired of eating chocolate. If this was true, then it was not just kindness but an intelligent way of ensuring zero pilferage. Dale Carnegie, in his bestseller “How To Win Friends & Influence People’ advocates a psychological principle. “Give the dog a good name and he will live up to it.” Why can’t these food delivery platforms give their agents complimentary food coupons everyday? I’m sure their margins would be enough for such incentives. After all, what is their capital investment? It breaks my heart to see these agents who deliver exotic dishes, crowding around street food joints for a hurried bite. If they cannot, at least occasionally, eat what they deliver, why wouldn’t they be tempted to sample some of what we order?

Just the other day, a cab driver confided in me: “Sir, this is my own vehicle. I drive 7 days a week to repay my loan. I cannot afford to even take my own kids in the car for a drive.” Come to think of it, how many of our newspaper delivery boys can read what they drop off every morning? And how many of us offer food delivery agents a glass of water, or say ‘thank you’ or at least don’t yell at them for coming a few minutes late? On Christmas eve, I had gone to an ‘upmarket’ store to pick up boneless chicken. The store housed a new meat brand counter. I noticed the employee spitting inside, not once but twice. I informed the Manager and left. I must confess that I was itching to tweet a complaint to the brand but I stopped short of doing that. I didn’t want someone losing his job over what was perhaps a random and habitual act for him. The man needs to be shown the wash basin, not the door.

Dear Zomato Founders, The viral video was punishment in itself. I urge you to offer your agent his job back. Along with a few food coupons.

Food for Thought: While there was a furore over the contaminated food, why is that I don’t see the same degree of outrage over a young mother getting HIV infected blood in a government hospital? 

Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident