To BBQ And Beyond: Mobile Car Service Uber Moves To New Ground At SXSW

Uber, the SMS/iPhone/Android friendly private car service, has been on a (ahem) roll, with the service expanding out to new cities and picking up ever more passengers. But this week at SXSW it is trying out a little something different while still playing on its strengths in on-demand service:

It is running an on-demand barbecue sandwich service in partnership with Iron Works BBQ, which can be ordered using Uber’s regular app. The BBQ service will be in addition to a revival of the pedicab service that Uber first introduced last year, when it quickly realized that offering lots of big cars during a traffic-choked mega-event (attracting upwards of 20,000 people) was not necessarily the best route to making new friends. Together, the two point to ways you could imagine Uber expanding in the years to come.

Uber tells us that the BBQ ordering service will work like this: you select BBQ as your ordering option at the top of the app screen; you set your location; you get an alert, and then a bag with a sandwich, chips, water, with a maximum of four sandwiches per group. Cost $10 each. Unlike the car service it will only run from 11am to 11pm, and will work until March 14.

The pedicabs, meanwhile, will also work until the 14th but will run for longer hours — “as long as you’re awake, there will be pedicabs,” they say — and those prices get negotiated with the drivers at pickup. Billing for these, too, will work the same way as regular Uber cars and those BBQ sandwiches.

Yes, this is a marketing gimmick. But it also got me thinking: if Uber can work out the logistics of a car service, why couldn’t it apply this to other areas, like BBQ sandwiches, or any other delivery-friendly goods and services, and for more than just the duration of a media/tech/music confab?

As companies like Amazon have so clearly demonstrated, with e-commerce plays, it’s all about logistics. Once those get ironed out, you can distribute anything.  That could mean a whole new line of business (or lines of businesses) for a company like Uber, which as of December had raised $32 million for its growth.

Of course, right now its sights are mainly set on making that car service more ubiquitous (dare we say Uber): the next step in that expansion is a full launch in Toronto next week, a service that had been in trial mode since last month.