It’s a little weird (and ominous) to type the phrase “Uber EATS Pittsburgh,” but don’t be alarmed. The ride hailing behemoth has not actually devoured the Steel City (yet). UberEATS is the name of its on-demand restaurant delivery service, which is launching in Pittsburgh today.
During a kickoff event Wednesday at Franktuary in Lawrenceville, Uber EATS general manager for Pennsylvania (it launched in Philadelphia a year ago) Casey Verkamp explained why and how the would-be driverless car company has entered the food delivery business.
“Our mission is to make eating, well, effortless for anyone, anytime,” Verkamp said (anyone with the app, at least). The goal is to have food to customers (or “Eaters” as Verkamp kept referring to them) within 35 minutes. While she was giving her presentation, the tablet indicating Franktuary was getting a new Uber EATS order started ringing, a bit of unplanned demonstration of how the system will work.
About 100 Pittsburgh restaurants, including Franktuary, Mad Mex, Square Cafe, Slice on Broadway and Il Pizzaiolo are already on the Uber EATS app, with more to be added, Verkamp said.
UberEATS started in Los Angeles in 2014 as a pilot, and was part of the main Uber app, with a standalone app released in 2015.
Here’s how it works: Open the app (or go to the website) choose your location to see the restaurants delivering in your area (you can filter by price, delivery time, cuisine and dietary restrictions), and place your order. The order goes to the restaurant, and when it’s close to being ready for pickup, a nearby driver is alerted. You get an alert when your food is ready and when it’s en route, and the entire transaction takes place (including payment) in the app.
Like its ride hailing Uber X app, there’s no mechanism for customers to tip drivers (unless they have cash when the driver drops off). And for now, no, you can’t get your pizza delivered by a driverless Uber. But Verkamp says EATS gives people with two-door cars the chance to become “driver-partners” (to drive passengers, you have to have a four-door).
But some of the features that are part of the original Uber experience are also part of Uber EATS. For instance, if you order your food during a time of high demand, such as during bad weather, your delivery may be subject to “dynamic pricing.” Yes, that is Uber-speak for surge pricing, which raises prices based on demand. So if you’re craving a burrito during a heavy rainstorm, you’ll probably pay a bit more.
In addition to streamlining the food delivery process, Uber EATS touts its Restaurant Manager software as a plus for restaurants. It provides data about delivery times and feedback from customers that the company says restaurants can use to tweak their delivery offerings.
Megan Lindsey, owner of Franktuary, said they are working on making sure the menu works for Uber EATS’ quick delivery turnaround. This has meant streamlining things a bit, especially for items in limited supply, and for some dishes that are more eat-in friendly.
“We send out our poutine on fries right now pretty closely to how we serve them at the restaurants, which has gotten some mixed reviews,” she said. The app gives restaurants the ability to make changes on the fly and consult directly with customers, which is an added bonus, she said.
Some other delivery services they’ve contracted with don’t allow any direct contact between customer and restaurant, which can pose problems. “We think if someone trusts us enough to let us prepare their food, then surely they want to hear from us, to tell them something like ‘hey this has an allergen, it looks like you may be avoiding based on the rest of your order.’”
Uber has struggled with some serious public relations problems of late, including questions about its company culture. The company’s once-warm reception from Pittsburgh officials, which paved the way for testing of its driverless vehicle technology, has cooled somewhat in recent months. Mayor Bill Peduto told the Wall Street Journal last month that he wanted Uber to sign a memorandum of understanding that would ensure better working conditions for drivers and more service options for the region’s senior citizens. He’s also complained about what he saw as a lack of support from the company for Pittsburgh’s application for a federal Smart Cities transportation grant funds, money that ultimately went to Columbus.
Uber never releases metrics about performance, so it’s not entirely clear how its EATS platform measures up to competitors like GrubHub and Postmates (which launched in Pittsburgh in 2015). But it will be available 24 hours a day 7 days a week in Pittsburgh, one of about 80 cities where the service is offered.
This map represents the local area covered by UberEATS