How to Pick the Best Times to Drive for Instacart
Learn how to make more money driving for Instacart by choosing the best times to work, plus other helpful tips.
Faster deliveries means more income for Instacart shoppers. The Circuit Route Planner helps drivers do just that!
Instacart delivery can be an awesome side hustle to make some extra cash as a shopper and driver — you might even pull in a full-time salary.
Yep, according to Indeed, Instacart shoppers make anywhere from $7 to $49 an hour, with an average of $21.04 an hour.
But the likelihood is that you’ll flounder at the low end of that pay range if you don’t drive for Instacart like the real money-making pros do.
To see how much time can be wasted by driving for Instacart without a strategy, just take a gander at the complaint threads that pop up in the InstacartShoppers subreddit, like this low-paid driver rant.
Luckily, it’s not too hard to learn their secrets!
Experienced Instacart drivers know how to make the most of their time and roll in the cash because they understand the tricks of the Instacart trade.
One of those tricks is to pick the best times to drive for Instacart as you make your own schedule.
This guide can teach you how to create the ultimate schedule.
Whether you’re new to Instacart’s grocery delivery service or have been doing it for a while, I’ll let you in on the best times to drive for Instacart.
What are the best days to drive for Instacart?
Because Instacart is a grocery delivery app, it gets busier during the days when people typically order their groceries.
In June 2021, Instacart posted a helpful blog with their customer demand data by day.
Demand is highest on Sundays and lowest on Wednesdays. Here’s how the days ranked from best to worst for Instacart demand:
To put that into words, Instacart is busy around the weekend and slow in the middle of the week.
Comparing the busiest day to the slowest day, the blog points out that “Sundays tend to have 25% more batch availability than Wednesdays.”
What is the best time of day to drive for Instacart?
Driving for Instacart on the best days is one thing, but choosing the best times is also important.
The best time to drive is when shoppers are placing a lot of grocery orders — and also when you have a good chance of grabbing those orders.
A third thing to consider is the time when Peak Boost pay comes into play (see details below).
Peak Instacart hours change from day to day, but there are a few patterns you can remember to make sure you’re online and ready to take batches at the right times.
Let’s go over the best times for Instacart drivers to work, starting from the busiest times to the slowest.
1. Early weekend mornings
Instacart opens for business at 9 am or as early as your local grocery stores open.
So, if the closest supermarket to you opens at 10 am, you’ll probably find batches come in starting at that time.
As I was talking about earlier, weekends and the surrounding days are when most people do their grocery shopping on Instacart.
That makes Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday the best days for Instacart driving.
And because Instacart is popular, with thousands of delivery drivers, you have to get on the Instacart app at the right times to have the best chance at getting grocery orders.
But not just any orders — the best-paying orders.
You might need to wake up early if you want to make good money driving for Instacart on the weekends. The early bird gets the worm, as they say.
2. Weekend days and nights
Busy hours don’t end at noon on the weekends. Instacart drivers are often busy with full shifts on these high-demand days.
Even if you’re not taking on batches at peak times, you can start driving at any time during the weekend and count on orders being available until closing time.
Most grocery stores stop accepting Instacart orders around 9 pm or 10 pm, although some stay open until midnight and beyond.
You may be able to work 24/7 if a participating store in your area is open and accepts orders around the clock.
3. Early weekday mornings
Are you looking to make Instacart your weekly job?
Instacart drivers who want to make money during the slower midweek days should get on the Instacart Shopper app early each morning, ready to catch the day’s first batches.
Weekdays might be slower than weekends, but there are still plenty of orders.
For instance, customers who work from home typically want grocery orders delivered before dinner that day. (I know from experience!)
4. Weekday evenings
Weekday after-work hours can be another good time to get money-maker Instacart orders — if you’re OK with working while the rest of the 9-to-5 workforce is heading home.
Instacart tends to get a bit busier during weekday evenings, perhaps because people are getting home from work and are too tired to shop.
We’ve all been there.
How the Instacart payout structure works for drivers
Let’s get into how Instacart pays its drivers.
The first step to understanding Instacart’s payout structure is to know which type of Instacart shopper you are.
Instacart has two types of shoppers: part-time hourly workers who only shop for items in the store (In-Store Shoppers) and contractors who do both the shopping and the delivery drives (Full-Service Shoppers).
When you sign up as a driver and a shopper, you get paid per batch as an Instacart Full-Service Shopper, so you’re considered an independent contractor.
A batch is a single delivery, which may include a single order or multiple orders.
Instacart calculates your pay per batch using a complex, secret algorithm, but we know a few basic factors that go into each payment total.
These factors include:
- Number of items in the order
- Heavy or bulky items
- Distance to the delivery address
- Quality bonuses
- Peak boost rates
- Customer tips
Since March 2022, Instacart has also been giving drivers an extra $0.40 per delivery as a temporary gas surcharge. The charge is added to every customer’s order and passed directly to the Instacart driver.
There’s no telling how long Instacart will keep this temporary surcharge in place, but for now, it’s a little extra money to help you offset high fuel prices.
(Psssst … We also have a helpful post on how to save gas while driving and making deliveries.)
Any time you complete a batch delivery with a payment total that doesn’t meet Instacart’s promised minimum Batch Payment of $7 to $10, Instacart will fill the gap to make sure you get paid well enough for your efforts.
How Instacart drivers get paid
Instacart uses the online payment platform Stripe to cash out payments to drivers.
Every week, Stripe sends direct deposit payments to drivers’ bank accounts, and you can access your money within a couple of days.
After you’ve successfully completed five batches, you can also use the Instant Cashout feature. This lets you access your Instacart earnings immediately through a debit card for a $0.50 fee per cashout.
You can cash out up to five times per day, up to a daily limit of $3,000.
How Instacart Peak Boost pricing works
When Instacart has more orders than drivers in your area, the app adds Peak Boost pay onto local batches to increase the driver incentive to take on those orders.
The Peak Boost amount added to any one order might be around $8 in smaller cities and $12 or more in larger cities.
You don’t need to do anything to take advantage of Peak Boost pay, except to look for Peak Boost orders and accept them when you see them.
How tips work on Instacart
When an Instacart customer goes through the app’s checkout process, they can leave a tip that goes 100% to the driver.
The customer can select a percentage of their order total or put in their own tip amount.
No tip is also an option.
The Instacart app has a few features that help drivers earn more in tips.
First of all, the 5% tip option is pre-selected for every order, so customers can see that a tip is expected, even if it’s low.
In April 2022, Instacart introduced new tip-related features in the app to help improve tips.
If a customer chooses a low tip or enters no tip at all, they’ll see a warning that the tip amount is shown to drivers before they accept the order. This serves as a reminder that grocery orders with good tips are claimed faster.
Instacart reported a 12% reduction in no-tip orders since releasing this app feature.
Another feature that Instacart added to help increase tips is a message shown to customers after they leave a five-star rating for their delivery driver.
The app then asks them to leave a higher tip. Instacart says that in the early pilot days of this feature, tips increased by 6% for eligible orders.
Instacart is always looking for new ways to help its drivers make good money.
Another way they recently tried to increase driver earnings was by changing the amount of time customers have to reduce their tips.
Customers used to have 24 hours to lower their tips, but that’s changed to two hours.
Instacart did this to combat tip-baiting — where a shopper first puts in a high tip to bait the driver into giving them great service, but then takes the tip away once the delivery is finished.
That would be totally lame as a driver, right?
So, Instacart’s decision to limit customers to only two hours for reducing tips should help you keep the tips you’re promised when accepting an order.
The new rule also benefits drivers because you can access your tip money as soon as the shorter two-hour window expires.
Customers still have two weeks to increase a tip. When that happens, you’ll get access to the extra money immediately.
How to earn even more on tips:
- Communicate with your customers. Instacart drivers who are friendly and helpful have a better chance of earning bigger tips. You can send greetings to customers, give them replacement suggestions, and even send an ETA.
In an interview with an Instacart driver named Michael, he shared that communication is his best Instacart shopping tip. And he says that he pays his bills by shopping for Instacart.
- Deliver on time and follow instructions. This is basic, sure, but it’s worth saying: Customers want their deliveries on time. If they give you special instructions, well, they want those instructions followed.
The thing is that not all drivers meet those expectations. When you do, you’ll put yourself among the best drivers and earn better tips from happier customers.
- Ask happy customers for high ratings. Since Instacart asks customers to tip more after giving drivers five-star ratings, asking for a great rating at the doorstep can make a difference in your tips.
As an Instacart customer myself, I know I’ve been motivated to go into my phone and leave a five-star rating for my Instacart driver just because they were bold enough to politely remind me. Try it!
How can you maximize your Instacart earnings?
Working for Instacart at the right times is only one way to maximize your Instacart pay. Here are a few other ways to save on costs and make more money delivering for Instacart.
- Get your alcohol certification. If you take the required course for Instacart drivers who deliver alcohol, you can start delivering batches that include beer, wine, liquor, and more. Instacart says that “nearly 14% of batches in alcohol-enabled states include alcohol.”
- Park and wait near busy grocery stores. When you’re in-between deliveries and waiting to pick up your next batch, park your vehicle where the Instacart Shopper app can show local stores with high Instacard demand.
Last year, Instacart added a new feature to the app’s map view that shows drivers which local stores are busiest in the area. And the closer you are to a busy store, the better your chance of seeing and grabbing an available batch.
- Accept multi-order batches. Instacart sometimes combines multiple orders into a single batch, or a customer will order items from two different stores. These multi-order batches let you kill two birds with one stone — earning money on two orders while cutting down on your shopping and delivery time.
- Join the Cart Star Rewards program. Released in July 2022, Cart Star Rewards is a new rewards program for the highest-rated shoppers. Shoppers with at least a 4.7 average rating can access new incentives, like cashback on gas purchases, discounts on other vehicle maintenance, priority access to Instacart batches, discounted child care through Care.com, and more.
Keep up your cash flow delivering Instacart orders like a boss
Shopping and driving for Instacart can be a highly lucrative side hustle in the gig economy.
However, it’s important to avoid wasting your time and effort, so make sure to remember the above tips for driving at the best times and other ways to maximize your Instacart earnings.
By using these basic strategies, you can up your Instacart game and make some serious cash as a gig economy worker.
Happy batch shopping!