Even before the pandemic, delivery was on the rise thanks to third-party delivery services that made it easier than ever for restaurants to offer the service and entice more customers. Ultimately those services proved detrimental to restaurants, even those that never signed on for their services in the first place. But we’re here now, in a reality where customers expect delivery, for free or very cheap, and to find it all in one app.
This has also fueled the rise of the ghost kitchen, where a restaurant need not even have a storefront to operate. A physical restaurant space can be far less important to visibility and customer-appeal than presence on a delivery app. Which is sort of what Uber Eats is furthering by gathering participating independent pizzerias under the umbrella brand “@pizza” (stylized with a lowercase “p”). Now we know what that Wayne’s World Super Bowl ad is for!
@Pizza is described by Expedite as a brand “made up of 150 existing pizzerias across the country who have signed on to operate under the @Pizza name exclusively for delivery on Uber Eats.” It’s also operated by @restaurants, a company that “pioneered the virtual restaurant revolution.” The premise is to give independent pizzerias a shot in a world dominated by Dominos and Papa John’s. @Pizza will live under Uber Eats’s “national brands” tab, so instead of having to search for an individual pizza place, users can click @Pizza and be connected to a local pizzeria. It’s a way for pizzerias to get listed higher in the results algorithm, all while making the consumer feel good about supporting an independent business, though they may not even know the business they’re buying from.
So which pizzerias get to be a part of @Pizza? The list is curated by none other than FuckJerry, the meme-stealing Instagram account turned PR firm behind the Fyre Fest disaster. Good to know they’re still kicking! This bodes terrifically. Pizzerias listed under @Pizza will all be required to offer certain menu items, but other than those (which aren’t specified), menus at each restaurant can differ. @Restaurants CEO Lawrence Vavra also told Expedite that @Pizza wouldn’t have “overlap,” meaning there won’t be multiple pizzerias serving any one delivery area. Whichever pizzeria signs on the quickest officially becomes the “pizza” option on Uber Eats for its neighborhood.
This is weird on multiple levels. First off, Uber is a huge company seemingly hellbent on wringing money out of its lowest-paid workers and it’s now positioning itself as defender of the little guy by partnering with “independent” restaurants. It’s also weird that, in order to supposedly highlight them, these pizzerias must give up any brand identity and even their own names, at least on the app. It’s not like a lot of pizzerias aren’t already generic (see the classic joke about every Famous Original Ray’s in New York), but the jump from ordering “Ray’s Pizza” to whatever Uber tells you “pizza” is signifies a fundamental devaluing of even a whiff of that independence Uber touts in the first place.
But it does make some business sense. The spread of third-party delivery apps and ghost kitchens means that many customers largely interact with restaurants through apps, not the restaurants directly. So if you’re already choosing where to eat by simply typing “pad thai” or “burrito” into Grubhub or DoorDash, @Pizza is making the process more vague and, in doing so, increasing its own brand entity. You’re not getting your pizza from a restaurant. You’re getting it from Uber.
Of course, these pizzerias chose to be part of this program, presumably because they can capture orders from people who may not even know or care who is supplying their pie. Right now, everyone needs all the help they can get, and presumably hiding their name behind the umbrella @Pizza brand seemed like a fair enough trade. It’s not just @Pizza though. @Restaurants touts that “coming soon” are other umbrella brands, such as @Icecream, @Hotwings, @Baked, and @Liquorstore (presumably connected to Uber’s acquisition of Drizly). It whittles down our tastes to the most “popular” things and sells them back to us, removing any need for choice or preference on the customer’s part. How convenient.