Uber will already ferry you just about anywhere you want to go, hook you up with a carpool, help you move, and deliver packages for you. Now, depending on where you live, Uber drivers will also bring you a freshly cooked meal.
Today, the transportation giant announced it is rolling out UberEATS, its food delivery service, in New York City and Chicago, following successful tests in Barcelona and Los Angeles. For this new feature, Uber partners with local restaurants, which offer one menu item per day to Uber customers—like a slimmed down version of Seamless. The big difference from other app-based food delivery services is how quickly Uber says it will get you your grub: the company promises to use its mighty network of drivers to deliver your order in 10 minutes or less.
For anyone who’s ever tried to get anywhere in New York City in 10 minutes or less, that seems like an impossible promise to keep. But according to Jason Droege, who heads up all of Uber’s so-called Uber Everything experiments, it’s the fact that Uber can deliver on that promise that convinced the company to go after this market.
“We thought, ‘What can Uber bring to this field that’s special and magical?” Droege says, “and our delivery time is pretty magical.”
The trick is, rather than waiting for customers to place an order, waiting for the restaurant to make the order, and then battling traffic to deliver the order—a process that can easily take 45 minutes—Uber drivers pick up batches of orders from participating restaurants in temperature controlled bags. Then they drive around as they always do, waiting to make a delivery to the nearest willing customer.
Push A Button, Get Banh Mi
For users, ordering from UberEATS is similar to ordering a ride. You open the app as you usually would, open the UberEATS tab, select an item from the menu, and place the order. When the driver pulls up, you come out to meet him, only instead of getting in the car, you get a banh mi sandwich.
Droege says UberEATS is an easy way for drivers to earn a little extra pocket change (drivers collect the $3 delivery fee). And for customers, Droege says, it not only cuts down on delivery wait times, but it also means being able to order from any restaurant Uber partners with, not just the ones that are nearby. Plus, you could be standing on the beach or in a park, and Uber would still know where to find you. “Anywhere you can drop a pin you can get food now,” he says. “That’s not something other delivery services can offer.”
Anywhere you can drop a pin you can get food now. That's not something other delivery services can offer. Jason Droege, Uber
And yes, there are a lot of other delivery services, from Seamless and Grubhub to Postmates and Instacart. But Uber is convinced there’s still room in this industry, Droege says, largely because its pilot programs in Los Angeles and Barcelona were so successful.
The bigger question, though, is why would a company like Uber want to be in this industry in the first place, particularly when so many other competitors exist? The answer, Droege says, is that this is yet another way that Uber is flexing its muscles not just as a transportation powerhouse, but as a full-scale logistics company. “We’re trying to build products at the intersection of where your lifestyle meets logistics,” Droege says. And food, of course, is a significant part of people’s lifestyle.
Still, it may not be as easy for Uber to overtake existing food delivery companies the way it did the taxi industry. Because UberEATS only offers a few menu items a day, Droege admits that it will primarily appeal to a subset of customers who “choose speed over selection.” But for a company that’s so dominant in one industry already, that may be enough.