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Order Up! Uber Launches Food Delivery Service In Pittsburgh

Uber is launching its food delivery service in Pittsburgh starting Thursday.

UberEATS general manager Casey Verkamp said the service will be faster, more reliable and more convenient than other delivery services, such as Postmates and Grubhub.

“We don’t think anyone else has cracked, to date, that problem so we’re really excited to be doing that, in Pittsburgh especially,” Verkamp said Wednesday at Franktuary in Lawrenceville.

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Franktuary co-owner Megan Lindsey said she looks forward to being able to communicate directly with customers through the UberEATS app.

Franktuary is one of the more than 100 Pittsburgh-area restaurants that had partnered with the app at its launch this week.

Co-owner Megan Lindsey said the restaurant will continue to use three other delivery services, including the local company Happy Bellies. But she said one advantage of UberEATS is that it allows the restaurants to communicate directly with customers if there’s a problem with the order.

“We think, if someone trusts us to put our hands all over their food, prepare it for them, send it out the door, then surely they would like to hear from us if we need to say, ‘This has an allergen and the rest of your order makes it seem like you might be allergic to this, too,’” Lindsey said.

She said other services do not share customer information with restaurants, in the name of privacy.

“So then we have to hopefully call some kind of main number and then some kind of rep will try to communicate what we’re trying to say to the guest and that has just become a triangulated nightmare,” Lindsey said.

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UberEATS general manager Casey Verkamp does an interview with WPXI-TV at Franktuary on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.

Uber launched its food delivery service in December 2015 and it has since spread to more than 80 cities across at least 30 countries. The most recent cities added to the roster, in addition to Pittsburgh, include Boston, Montreal and Mumbai. UberEATS launched in Philadelphia in August 2016.

Verkamp said the average delivery time globally is 35 minutes, but didn’t have any data showing how well the service is performing in other cities.

“What I can tell you is that UberEATS has been growing incredibly quickly everywhere we’ve arrived, and that’s why we have the launched the product in so many cities,” she said.

UberEATS will charge users a flat $4.99 fee for delivery. Like Uber’s original ride-sharing app, users cannot tip within the app, but Verkamp said drivers are fairly compensated through the existing service fees. Restaurants will pay Uber a percentage of each order and, in some cases, will pay a setup fee, Verkamp said.

Other delivery services, such as Postmates and Grubhub, have delivery fees that can vary widely. Some restaurants on Grubhub offer free delivery, while it may cost up to $3.99 for delivery from restaurants that use GrubHub’s drivers. Spokesperson Sandra Gliding noted that doesn’t include tips for drivers, but said Grubhub is still able to offer the best service because it operates at such a large scale in so many cities.

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Uber and UberEATS driver Ron Graziano said providing rides and delivering food doesn't feel like work to him.

“We deal with one product, food, and we understand it better than anyone else,” Gliding said.

Happy Bellies co-founder Dean Tanner expressed skepticism about UberEAT's claim to be the fastest.

"There are way too many factors that determine delivery times," he said. "For any company to claim that they will be the fastest is irrelevant and just false."

Tanner said Happy Bellies also instructs drivers to double-check the accuracy of an order before leaving the restaurant.

Postmates spokesperson Vikrum Aiyer noted that the company provides delivery of more than just food. For example, he said senior citizen with limited mobility can order groceries or over-the-counter drugs through the app. He said the company’s presence in Pittsburgh has allowed smaller companies to grow their customer-base.

“We believe that we’re doing it in a way that’s fun and that’s from the bottom-up, to make sure we’re bringing on all sorts of brands, no matter their size and no matter what their product is, in a way that some of our other competitors simply haven’t been able to lean into,” Aiyer said.

Verkamp said UberEATS users will be able to track where their food is with the app, just like they can track where their ride is with the Uber app.

While the two apps are separate, Verkamp said they are coordinated, so once you enter your information into one, it will be shared with the other. She said UberX drivers can make themselves available for both Uber pickups and food delivery, and users will be offered delivery through the app during their Uber rides.

Ron Graziano, 79, of Greenfield has been driving for Uber for two years, after retiring from his delivery driver job with UPS. Graziano said he made his first UberEATS delivery Tuesday during the “soft launch” of the service.

“It’s perfect for an old-timer like me,” Graziano said. “I’m retired and this fits my schedule to a T. Where can you find a job at my age, which I’m going to be 80 years old, where you work when you want?"

This story was updated at 10:27 a.m. May 4, 2017, to include comment from Postmates.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.