Inside Job: Sherpa's delivery person

Jake Newby hits the road to deliver dinner on time

Did you know that there’s a Sherpa’s mystery shopper programme where you can volunteer to sneakily record your delivery so that they can monitor the quality of their service?

The Sherpa’s staff know this; it’s one of the myriad of quality control checks and balances employed by the company to ensure you get that hangover-fixing burrito quickly and smoothly.

There are fines for not wearing a helmet, guidelines on how set the cheese on a pizza should be before it goes on the back of a motorbike, and even rules about the frequency with which you can knock on a customer’s door.

Becoming a Sherpa’s delivery guy (and they are guys, all 180 of them operating in Shanghai), means navigating similar levels of 00 agent-like stringency. New recruits have to wade through a 90-something page Powerpoint presentation on the dos and don’ts of their role, then sit three exams (delivery theory, delivery practice and road/route knowledge) before they’re allowed to don the familiar black and orange uniform and hit the streets unattended.



Maybe it’s the look of panic on my face when she mentions ‘exams’, but fortunately Operations Director Sophie Lee allows me to forego such rigorous training in favour of an abridged run-through. It helps that Zhao Jiawu – a Sherpa’s veteran of eight years – will be keeping an eye on me for the duration of my stint.

At 11am, the lounge at the company’s Xiangyang Nan Lu headquarters is full of drivers watching TV and snacking on baozi; by midday it’ll be completely deserted, and many of the delivery guys won’t get to eat again until 2 or 3pm. I’ve barely found myself a spot on one of the sofas when Mr Zhao tells me we’ve got a delivery. It’s on.


Disappointingly, there’s no fire station-style pole to slide down at Sherpa’s HQ, so we take the stairs to street level where a pair of electric scooters await. Each driver owns his own bike, though Sherpa’s offers financial rewards for those who buy nice new (usually orange) ones. Our pick-up spot is the Hooter’s by Ambassy Court on Huaihai Lu and once there we head straight for the kitchen.

But the order – a Clubhouse sandwich – isn’t ready yet, and so we wait outside. I’m assured this is because Sherpa’s trains its staff not to get in the way inside restaurants, not because the Hooters girls feel threatened by how sexy I look in my little black and orange number.

When the sandwich is ready, I check it against the order sheet, ensure there are no condiments needed, and place it inside my delivery bag, which is specially designed to retain the heat. I’m lucky there are no drinks involved with this order, according to Zhao. ‘Milkshakes are okay because they’re a bit thicker, but coffee is a nightmare to transport on bumpy roads,’ he says. Good advice for life, I feel.



Our destination is on Maoming Lu and we have 13 minutes to get there, information which triggers the Mission Impossible theme in my head. We’re careful not to jump any red lights or get sucked into drag races against Eleme or Mealbay drivers at junctions, but while the Cobb sandwich arrives at the given address in one piece (or however many pieces it’s supposed to be in), we are a couple of minutes over the standard 45 minute delivery window. Mr Zhao is relaxed about this however; he knows that the relief/elation at a Sherpa’s arrival usually overrides any awareness of two-minute tardiness.

Once we’ve given the customer his change (prepared in advance so there’s no dawdling), it’s back to headquarters. Following Mr Zhao, I notice the recruitment advert on his bike says that a salary of ‘7,000RMB a month isn’t just a dream’. Lee admits that the drivers usually only get that kind of money at peak periods (November is busiest apparently), and ordinarily they can expect to get closer to 4,500RMB a month.

Essentially, the more orders they take, the more money a delivery person gets, however the company has strict rules against drivers encouraging tipping. Not that that should stop you giving a Sherpa a little extra next time – talk to them about the travails they go through on a rainy day and you’ll see they thoroughly deserve it.

Back at headquarters, we return to the inner sanctum of the lounge and I eye the sofa. But Mr Zhao has other ideas – it’s a busy lunchtime, and he’s already got his next order form.

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