Slow rider

Food for thought: The UberEATS app allows people to order a meal or snack on their smartphones and have it delivered to the location of their choice. But when the Times tried to order pretzels through the app, it found that the availability was sporadic at best. Among locations that were actively Ubering, delivery times ranged from 20 to 45 minutes, contrary to the estimated 15-minute window. PHOTO: UBEREATS APP SCREENSHOT

Soft pretzels are a Philadelphia institution. Uber is not.

So in a conspicuous effort to win local folks’ hearts through their stomachs, the rideshare service is teaming with one of the city’s premier purveyors of doughy delicacies to deliver its golden goodness door-to-door.

Philly Pretzel Factory was among dozens of restaurants and takeout eateries that partnered with Uber for the Philadelphia launch of the UberEATS app on Aug. 17. The app allows local folks to order a meal or snack on their smartphones and have it delivered to the location of their choice. Uber and its partner businesses say UberEATS is faster and more convenient than other delivery options.

But in practice, the service still has a few unwelcome twists.

When a Philly Pretzel spokesman recently contacted the Northeast Times to promote the new partnership, it seemed like a worthwhile story with strong local ties. After all, Dan DiZio and Len Lehman opened their first pretzel shop on Frankford Avenue in Mayfair in 1998. Six years later, they began franchising. Today, there are about 156 locations stretching as far as Florida and Texas.

But when the Times tried to order pretzels through the app, it found that the availability was sporadic at best. Some locations that were supposed to have Uber delivery didn’t appear on the app. Other locations were open for walk-in business, but were not taking Uber orders at certain times. And among locations that were actively Ubering, estimated delivery times ranged from 20 to 45 minutes, contrary to the 15-minute window touted by the pretzel company rep.

In short, if you’re looking to feed your craving for authentic Philly fare at the foot of the famed Rocky statue, for example, you may want to pack a picnic basket.

Adam Terranova, Philly Pretzel’s marketing manager, told the Times that his company is testing six locations for UberEATS, all within the city, but none in the Northeast. That could change as soon as mid-September when the company adds more of its stores to the UberEATS list.

For now, participating locations include one near Temple University, one near Penn, one at 15th and Sansom, two in South Philly and one in Port Richmond at Aramingo and Westmoreland. In general, the concept makes sense for Philly Pretzel because it gives the shops access to Uber’s large, established pool of rideshare drivers, Terranova said. They don’t have to worry about finding a good driver with a reliable car.

The spokesman further said that a typical order will make it to the customer in about 15 minutes. That’s allowing 10 minutes for preparation then another five to deliver it. Delivery zones are limited in size to ensure timely service. When the food arrives at its destination, no cash changes hands. The UberEATS app manages all transactions via credit card.

“Convenience and speed would be the two consumer benefits,” Terranova said. “We bake pretzels fresh and have them ready for the driver. This allows the customer to order directly from the store and have it delivered.”

But what about the price? Why would someone pay the equivalent of taxi fare for a product that can be had for spare change at any convenience store from New Hope to Cape May? Heck, back in the 1980s, you could buy a bag of five for a buck.

“This allows people with an urge for a soft pretzel, a Philly cheese steak pretzel or a pretzel dog to satisfy that urge without driving,” Terranova said while deftly plugging his company’s growing line of savory pretzel concoctions.

The UberEATS app, which is available for free from Apple’s App Store and from Google Play, lays out the pricing in detail. Philly Pretzel’s base rate is $4.75, including tax. You get five pretzels for that. Five is the minimum. For additional charges, you can order quantities of 10 or 15, or even a full-size party tray for $39 (the half tray costs $35, so they clearly want you to pay the extra four bucks for the full tray). Condiments and dipping sauces cost extra. Drinks are rather pricey: $3 for iced tea, $2.75 for soda or $1.75 for water.

But, again, it’s all about convenience, which is why some of the availability problems may come as a surprise.

On Wednesday, Aug. 31, at about 4:30 p.m., a Times reporter tried to get pretzels delivered to a park bench at Welsh and Cresco avenues on the edge of Pennypack Park. But there were no participating Philly Pretzel stores within range. So the reporter tried to order for several other destinations around the city, including the Rocky statue in front of the Art Museum, the Liacouras Center at Temple and the Franklin Field/Palestra complex at Penn. The customer does not have to be at a location to order a delivery there.

The reporter found that a single Philly Pretzel store at 15th and Sansom Streets was listed as the pretzel provider for all three destinations. Yet, a message appearing on the app stated that deliveries from Sansom Street were “currently unavailable.” The Temple and University City stores didn’t show up at all in the searches.

The Times placed telephone calls to the various stores. At Sansom Street, an employee said their Uber system was online. The worker further claimed that Penn is out of the store’s delivery radius. Nobody picked up the phone at the University City store. Instead, a voicemail recording instructed callers to send questions to an email address. An employee at the Temple-area store also said that their Uber system was online. But the Liacouras Center is out of its range.

A short time later, the Sansom Street store’s “unavailable” message disappeared, indicating that the location was accepting orders, even for Franklin Field, although the wait time according to the app was 32 to 43 minutes.

By 11 a.m. the following day, the “unavailable” message had returned for the Sansom location. About three hours later, it was gone. The same message appeared for Philly Pretzel’s South Third Street store, although another South Philly location, 1401 W. Passyunk Ave., was available for Uber delivery. When the Times placed a follow-up phone call to the University City store, an employee reported that a placard promoting UberEATS was on the cash register, but nobody in the building had ever used the system. The worker suggested calling the store’s general manager with any questions. ••