Uber reminds us there’s still stuff worth doing
...and gets one step closer to superapp status
After a couple of brutal pandemic years where food delivery literally saved business, Uber is using its app to remind people that the app isn’t just good for having stuff brought to them — they can also go to stuff.
Uber launched new functionality in fifteen North American cities last week using Yelp to suggest restaurants for reserving, events worth checking out, and landmarks worth visiting. A new “explore” tab lets Uber riders book reservations, buy event tickets, and view top destinations in their cities. (For example, in San Francisco, where I live, I’m invited to explore public parks, museums, and landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge.)
Per coverage in TechCrunch, the app recommends destinations based on a user’s Uber and Uber Eats history, with, of course, a “ride there now” feature. Some restaurants and bars will offer 15 percent off the cost of a ride to their front door, up to $10.
“We’ve built Uber Explore to take our customers beyond the ride,” Adib Roumani, product lead for Uber Explore, told TechCrunch. “People have always come to the Uber app for the point A to point B piece of the journey — so we’re thrilled to expand and help inspire the destination, too.”
The changes are just another example of a Big Delivery trend of late — expanding beyond restaurants to add new products and functionality that’s not part of the core business. Uber has always had this sort of built-in diversification, but baking in recommendations for places to visit is certainly a step toward superapp status.
Speaking of Uber…
As people start returning to offices en masse after a years-long hiatus, Uber Eats is relaunching its group ordering product with new functionality. A host chooses a restaurant and sets a deadline — up to a week in advance — for placing orders. Hosts can also decide to pay for everyone, or to split the bill, similar to the experience of splitting an Uber ride.
$3 million for more influencer brands
Oh, good, just what the industry needs, more celebrity-backed virtual restaurant concepts. One startup in the space, Popchew, announced $3.6 million in seed funding to help creators “build, launch and grow their own local, digitally native food brands nationally in a matter of weeks.” Weeks!
Buzzy celebrity virtual brands grab headlines, but as I mentioned weeks ago, rarely pass muster when it comes to their actual food. Instead, the food becomes an afterthought hidden beneath a pile of business development.
In fact, little good news has come out of the celebrity restaurant space in the last few months. Virtual Dining Concepts’ TikTok Kitchen, announced with a splash late last year, is supposed to launch at some point this month with 300 locations, growing to over a thousand by the end of the year.
Of course, there is that one virtual concept that’s held up as the market of success every time the industry is mentioned — MrBeast Burger. The virtual brand launched over a year ago now has 1,600 locations and is approaching $100 million in revenue, per MrBeast himself on a recent appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast. (I listened so you don’t have to.)
Actually, Jimmy Donaldson, a.k.a. MrBeast, shared the restaurant brand’s origin story:
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