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E-commerce giants try restaurant delivery

Uber and Amazon are what pundits call disuptors—challengers who up-end the status quo with a completely new mode of operation. Can they engineer a similar upheaval in meal delivery? Restaurants in the greater Los Angeles and Seattle areas are about to find out.


Uber is the people’s car service. Relying on the company’s mobile technology, an army of drivers provide the same service as a taxicab, though at a significantly lower price. Customers press a button on an app to summon a car, and then pay via their phones.

Ten days ago the e-commerce giant started testing a new service, UberFRESH, in the Beverly Hills, Westside and Hollywood sections of Los Angeles. Consumers in those locales can order lunch or dinner via their Uber smartphone app from a selected group of restaurants and have it delivered within 10 minutes by an Uber driver.

The selections are limited to one item per restaurant; if a certain sandwich is the day’s designated choice from a particular restaurant, it’s that or nothing from that establishment.

Each delivery costs a flat $3, and the drivers cannot get out of their cars; the customer has to go outside and take it. Tipping is discouraged. 

The service is also available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Uber says that the service will be expanded to include all of Los Angeles in the near future.


Amazon embarked on a restaurant-meal delivery test in Seattle with little fanfare. It seems decidedly more modest than Uber’s initiative, relying on capabilities that Amazon mastered through online shopping and older experiments like grocery delivery.

A website serves as a marketing billboard for participating restaurants. Put in your zip code to learn what establishments in the area offer delivery and how much the transport to your door costs. A quick check found fees ranging from 99 cents to $5, and most deliveries were free.

Pick-up orders can also be placed via the website. All transactions can be processed through Amazon, just as online shoppers buy from various merchants through Amazon.com, the company’s e-commerce hub.

The meals are actually carted to consumers’ doors via AmazonFresh, the grocery delivery service that Amazon has introduced in selected urban markets. Like PeaPod, AmazonFresh lets customers in effect shop online and have their orders trucked to them. In Seattle, the offer has been expanded to include what a local newspaper pegged as 129 restaurants in the area.

Locals report that the grocery and restaurant delivery services can be combined; order some fresh lettuce to make your own salad and a ready-to-eat lasagna from a nearby Italian restaurant. The food is delivered together.

The delivery service is part of a larger initiative called AmazonLocal, whereby the company serves as an e-commerce and transportation partner to local businesses.

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