Uber just officially declared war in Manhattan's food delivery business.
Starting Tuesday, anyone in Manhattan who opens the UberEats app will see a long list of color-saturated images of dishes from local restaurants. This is the introduction of UberEats proper. And delivery--at least at first--is free.
That is to say, UberEats (which had previously allowed Manhattanites to order a dish or two at lunchtime via a limited "Instant Delivery" service) is becoming a lot more like Seamless, which is widely seen as the current delivery leader in New York City. Seamless and its kin could be forgiven for shaking in their boots.
"I am very confident that we will very quickly be seen as the best way to get great food delivered fast, from those best places in your neighborhood and beyond," says Michael Conti, New York City's general manager for UberEverything--the group that manages UberRush, UberEvents, and really anything that's not just hailing a simple ride from here to there.
UberEats will be available from 8 a.m. to midnight, anywhere south of 100th Street in Manhattan. Conti said at a small briefing Monday that Uber is aiming at giving users access to better restaurants, perhaps up to two miles away, and more quickly (the implication being: faster, cheaper, better than Seamless).
Uber is adding restaurants to its list rapidly--and that'll be necessary, as New Yorkers are used to having hundreds of options at their fingertips, not just a dozen or so per neighborhood. There's a lot at stake in New York, a prime market for many Silicon Valley companies trying to carve out a slice of the $50 billion food-delivery market. Semi-recent newcomers to New York include Munchery, DoorDash, Postmates, and Caviar.
One thing's clear: UberEats is already prettier than Seamless. The Uber app is very image-heavy, and the glistening food shots were taken by professional photographers Uber sent to each of its partner restaurants (in a move seemingly taken from the Airbnb playbook).
The service is already available in Los Angeles, Houston, Toronto, Chicago, and San Francisco. Today it launches in Atlanta, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, in addition to New York. Thursday it opens in Austin. Uber is opening up Eats to most of the United States very soon, solidifying its "multi-app" strategy for growth, as the UberEverything department grows and staffs up in cities around the globe, from Toronto to Barcelona and beyond.
What powers UberEats in New York, unlike other, more car-friendly cities, is a network of bicycle messengers--hundreds of contractors--who open the driver app and accept delivery jobs when they like. When a restaurant has an order ready or very nearly ready to go out, it hails one of them to pick it up from their restaurant and deliver the meal to the customer's door. There's no tip involved. (Messengers will be paid by Uber based on miles pedaled and deliveries accomplished. For customers, there likely will be a delivery fee in the near future.)
"Most restaurants today that are on Seamless have pretty tight delivery radii; that's because they're using their own staff," says Conti. "So the further they send them out, the longer it is going to take them to get back empty-handed." In other words, it is expensive for any given restaurant to deliver even a few blocks farther because it could require more staff. Ostensibly, for Uber, if a robust network of messengers is constantly in circulation, one could pick up a new order nearby her last drop-off, eliminating that "empty-handed" time.
"This is part of that kind of revolution in the restaurant industry. And that's exciting," says Cynthia Kueppers, founder of sushi restaurant Uma Temakeria. She admits that Uma has hired up for accommodating the extra orders she anticipates will come in over UberEats. Previously, she had been making hand rolls and sushi burritos available for lunch order via Uber's Instant Delivery option. She says: "We are a young company, so we are easily able to adapt to what's coming onto the market now."
Still, a lot has yet to be determined for UberEats. "Instant" doesn't seem to have been an unassailable hit for the company. And it's still not expanding the delivery area south of 14th Street.
And while restaurants have been fairly quick to sign on to UberEats, it is yet another piece of software for each restaurant to manage--and often a dedicated tablet or computer is needed to run the interface during open hours.
Carolyn Bane, co-owner of Pies 'n' Thighs, a comfort food restaurant with locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, says that now that her restaurant has added a tablet for incoming Uber orders, one area of her restaurant has three separate tablets beeping and flashing with online orders. "Someone joked that it was the Starship Enterprise, manning the board," she says of the stand the tablets are perched atop. "I think there was resistance at first...but [people see] that this is where things are heading for a restaurant like ours."