Let the hunger games begin: UberEats, the Uber for food delivery, has launched in London

Deliveroo deliverers. Image: Getty.

In my humble opinion, one of the best things about living in a city is that, with a few jabs at my phone, I can order most sorts of food directly to wherever I am. No calling and painstakingly reading out numbers from a paper menu. No leaving the house. No changing into respectable outdoor clothes.  

And over time, the number of ways to do so has increased dramatically. Takeaway mainstay JustEat was joined in London by Deliveroo in 2013, healthy food delivery service Pronto launched in 2014, Belgian start-up Take Eat Easy arrived this year – and this month, London becomes the 18th city to be served by Uber’s new food delivery app, UberEats.

Here’s your need-to-know:

1. No, you won’t share your next Uber ride with a pizza – UberEats will be delivered by bikes and scooters, not cabs.

2. You can't get it through the main Uber app it's a separate app called "UberEats". 

3. It’s launching with 150 restaurants on its books, from chains like Chilango and Hummus Bros to independent restaurants like Borough Market’s Fish!.

4. For now, you can only order to central London.

5. For now, there is no delivery fee, usually set at around £2-£3 by competitors. 

6. There’s no minimum order – this is unusual, as most delivery services and restaurants set a minimum of £15 or so…

7. ...and if your order costs £20 or less and takes more than half an hour to come, UberEats gives you £20 credit towards your next meal.

These last three points would ring alarm bells on any business plan. It's notoriously difficult to make delivery services profitable, and Deliveroo relies heavily on its partnerships with massive, popular chains like Nandos to make it work.

By not charging a fee, having no minimum order (you could, technically, order a can a Coke from a restaurant and nothing more) and giving out cash for late deliveries, Uber probably stands to lose money on the service, at least at first. 


Will those tricky margins have an effect on wages? Hard to say, but it's unlikely Uber will be handing out generous paychecks in these circumstances.

Uber's business model here appears to rely on killing the competition, even if it hits Uber financially – then ramping up delivery prices and times once it’s eaten (sorry) into Deliveroo and other competitors' business. 

So how easy will that be? A Business Insider piece reporting on Pronto’s launch noted that most restaurants were happy to send out food via multiple delivery services, though rising numbers may tax their patience. It would certainly be within the services’ interests to sign exclusivity deals with certain outlets or chains. 

UberEats may also need to lure riders from other services to meet demand. An Evening Standard preview of the service used a courier who said she previously worked for Deliveroo, but preferred UberEats’ “flexibility”. Yet riders working for either Uber or Deliveroo have few labour rights – and, at Deliveroo at least, wages below the London Living Wage. As with Uber’s car drivers, riders for both companies are described as “contractors” rather than employees.

The on-demand economy presents the lure of flexible working times to drivers and low prices and convenience to customers, but it revokes everything from holiday pay to job security in the process. As the UberEats launch shows, it's a race to the bottom in terms of price and convenience – and we need to make sure that isn’t taken out on those bringing us the bacon.

 
 
 
 

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.