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UberEATS to start food delivery in Tampa

A promotional shot from uberEats, which comes to Tampa starting Sept. 7. Photo courtesy of Uber.
Published Sep. 7, 2016

As if we needed another reasons to camp out on the sofa.

Wednesday at 8 a.m., 75 Tampa restaurants will get in on what has been big news in most major metro areas this summer: UberEATS launches, offering food delivery from full menus of well-known area restaurants, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

The service will debut in Tampa, and in the next few weeks expand to other areas of Tampa Bay.

This launch marks the first time in the company's history that the new standalone UberEATS application has debuted outside of the ability to request rides. Both Uber and Lyft services are currently illegal in Hills­borough County. But drivers aren't subject to the same rules if they're transporting food and not people.

Food delivery services are not new. GrubHub (which owns another service, Seamless) is currently the market leader, operating in more than 900 cities, with companies like DoorDash, FoodNow, Foodler, Deliveroo and Doorstep Delivery carving out their own pieces of the pie.

But it's a huge pie. Industry analysts estimate only 10 percent of U.S. restaurants take online orders. That leaves 90 percent as wild frontier. If you pay attention to current dining habits, that frontier will be colonized, pronto.

Who is going to use the service? Everyone, says Suzanne Perry, co-owner of Datz, Dough, Roux and the upcoming Dr. BBQ's. She is among the restaurateurs signed up to debut the service locally.

"If you're an executive at the end of the day, you can press a couple buttons and your food just shows up. If you're a young person who has been out all night partying, your ice cream just shows up. It's the ultimate convenience. I used to have to get off my couch to get ice cream."

Beyond Datz, Dough and Roux, restaurants partnering with UberEATS include Bella's Italian Cafe, Miguel's, Ciccio Water, Mini Doughnut Factory, Alessi Bakery, Piquant Epicure and Cuisine, Carmel Kitchen, Acropolis Taverna, La Teresita, Square 1, Taco Bus, California Tacos To Go, Oggi Italian, Grille One Sixteen and La Segunda Central Bakery. Delivery areas include downtown and South Tampa, Davis Islands, East Tampa, Palmetto Beach, North Tampa, Old Seminole Heights, Drew Park, Carrollwood and the area around the University of South Florida, with expansions planned.

Uber has been in the news recently for reported losses industry experts put at $1.27 billion for the first half of 2016. A glass-half-empty thinker says those are punishing losses; on the full side it signals that a whole lot of investors are willing to pour money into a project to ensure its dominance.

UberEATS originally launched in 2014, mainly serving business lunch crowds in big metro areas and offering a limited number of items from a highly curated group of restaurants. The 2.0 version, launched at the end of 2015, expanded the number of restaurants, menu items and delivery cars for a significantly increased reach.

According to Tom Maguire, general manager of Uber in Tampa Bay, the initial restaurants were chosen after hearing from Tampa Bay's residents.

"These restaurants are some of their favorites," he said.

And what's in it for the restaurants?

"In the past, we have wanted to do more with delivery, but delivery is an entirely separate business," Perry said. "You need drivers and a fleet of cars. With this, the software is ready to go, there's the phone app and the drivers are already there. All those additional operational challenges are removed. I don't have to add any staff or vehicles."

With no additional employees or infrastructure beyond an investment in travel-worthy to-go containers, restaurants can increase their annual take as much as 20 percent, some experts estimate. But the costs are also high.

Companies like GrubHub and Seamless charge participating restaurants between 13 and 24 percent; UberEATS will charge restaurants 30 percent.

And the issue of drivers is not entirely clear: With more than a million drivers nationally, the UberEATS model answers the question, "What can they do during the down time between fares?" In a market such as Hills­borough County where Uber drivers are not currently legally ferrying riders (though some drivers continue to operate and face penalties), this supplementary revenue stream strategy is not relevant.

Still, Uber has the advantages of an easy-to-use app, massive brand recognition and a nearly limitless supply of investment capital.

Comparing the fees food delivery services charge diners is a bit tricky. Several of the major ones charge a flat fee for delivery, others a graduated charge depending on the distance driven, and others a percentage of the total food cost. Some, like DoorDash, charge a delivery fee as well as a price hike for menu items (unless you're looking at the restaurant's menu or website, you may not notice a couple dollar premium).

UberEATS charges a $4.99 delivery fee, which is in keeping with or slightly less expensive than some of the services already available in this area.

For restaurateurs like the Perrys, the rise of delivery services has caused them to rethink their offerings, removing things like tacos from delivery options (too likely to get soggy) and deconstructing some dishes to offer sauces on the side or to separate hot and cold items.

They're all necessary steps to remaining relevant. In many metro areas, they say, restaurants already exist only to serve UberEATS orders, removing chairs and tables to accommodate more delivery drivers.

"My gut is that everyone will be doing this within a couple years," Perry said. "It's just really fun to click, click, click on your phone."

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

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