UberEats joins the endless stream of meal delivery services in Pittsburgh

When the late night surge of Philly cheesesteak and french fry orders pour in from hungry college students, they’re usually not coming in on the phone, said Joel Miller, manager of Oakland-based sandwich shop Campus Deli.

“Tuesday night shift, there was one phone delivery and 10 Grubhub deliveries,” Mr. Miller said. “It goes back and forth, but it’s a lot of our business.”

Grubhub still isn’t the only on-demand meal service expanding Campus Deli’s customer base beyond its traditional store-operated delivery service. There’s Yelp’s Eat24. And Lawrenceville-based delivery service Happy Bellies. There’s a possible deal with EatStreet on the horizon. And now, UberEATS has confirmed a partnership.

Adding to the droves of meal delivery services customers use to order food with the touch of a button, UberEATS officially launched in Pittsburgh Thursday morning, following rumors of its release last week.

The ridesharing company’s meal delivery offshoot — which operates in more than 80 U.S. cities in combination with 40,000 partner restaurants — joins a Pittsburgh market already infiltrated with meal delivery services. The Pittsburgh space also includes offers of assistance from Postmates, OrderUp and Squirrel Hill-based Wheel Deliver.

A 2015 economic impact study done for Chicago-based delivery service Grubhub noted that in the past, acceptable restaurant accessibility meant being physically close to public transportation or setting up shop in a densely populated area. But now, just as brick and mortar retail stores have had to adapt to e-commerce, restaurants must increase their digital presence to reach customers a little farther out.

A sample of the UberEATS app interface for Pittsburgh users, featuring Penn Brewery and Pizza Parma in Shadyside. (Image courtesy of UberEATS)

According to Morgan Stanley Research, an equity research firm, the food delivery industry’s total revenue opportunity is valued at $210 billion. Industry leaders Grubhub and Eat24 generated a combined $2.6 billion in food sales in 2015, meaning there’s still opportunity for further competition.

Grubhub leads the pack with 50,000 partner restaurants in more than 1,100 cities nationwide. On average, the company completes 324,600 orders each day.

“To date, we haven’t seen Uber’s growth impacting our ability to grow our restaurant network and our diner base in any of our markets,” said Sandra Glading, director of public relations.

While Grubhub originated in 2004 as a middleman to coordinate orders from customer to restaurant, harnessing existing delivery drivers, it now also has its own turnkey delivery model with on-the-ground drivers in at least 70 markets, including Pittsburgh.

In the UberEATS standalone app, customers can browse for meals, place their orders and track their delivery’s progress in real time. Rather than harness partner restaurants’ current delivery drivers, UberEATS turnkey delivery employs its own drivers, many of which are already UberX drivers — removing a full step in the restaurant-side delivery chain.

“Gone are the days that restaurants have to hire delivery drivers,” said Casey Verkamp, the new service’s general manager for Pennsylvania.

The UberEATS app’s 24-hour coverage extends to Pittsburgh’s outlying suburbs, including Ross and Hampton in the north, Penn Hills in the east, and Upper St. Clair and West Mifflin south of the city.

That’s a huge incentive for restaurants like Campus Deli to add the service to the arsenal of delivery options.

“Our goal with UberEATS is to deliver to a wider range of customers,” Mr. Miller said. “The hope is not that Uber would take away deliveries we would normally take, but that they will take orders we wouldn’t have normally gotten.”

The mom-and-pop shops of the modern delivery market include Pittsburgh’s own Happy Bellies, which launched in 2013 and currently employs 10 independent contractors to deliver food.

Dean Tanner, co-owner of Happy Bellies, maintains that small, local companies can deliver better results. He noted that his drivers check their orders, individually, and if an order ends up arriving late, Mr. Tanner reaches out to customers, first.

“We’re kind of a forgotten guy in the shadow … but we do things the right way,” he said. “People will try Uber and we can’t stop them, but they’ll come back to us, ultimately, for our service.”

Ms. Glading at Grubhub said different meal delivery options are, in many cases, tailored to different customers, based on what they’re looking for — and that’s not a bad thing.

“It seems that, as competitors have entered the market, they are adding new restaurants to the ecosystem and bringing awareness to more diners,” she said. “This competition is good for everyone involved.”

Courtney Linder: clinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. Twitter: @LinderPG.

First Published May 4, 2017 6:00 AM


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