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amazon prime now Restaurant selection - SkilletAmazon is launching a new restaurant delivery service in Seattle today, leveraging its fleet of drivers to get hot meals to customers within an hour.

The official launch confirms what GeekWire reported just two weeks ago when we first discovered the company was conducting meal delivery tests as part of the new Prime Now service. The move puts the e-commerce giant in the middle of a crowded field of startups and other companies trying to make their mark in restaurant delivery.

Announcing its plans today, Amazon said the launch in Seattle will enable Prime customers to order meals from local restaurants including Cactus, Wild Ginger, Skillet, Marination Station, Re:public, Café Yumm, Ten Mercer, Mamnoon and more.

“We have a high bar on restaurants we want to include,” said Gus Lopez, general manager of Amazon Restaurants, in an interview. “And for some of them, they are offering delivery for the first time. They are thrilled they’ve chosen to work for us and we are thrilled they’ve chosen Prime Now.”

primenowWhat about a national rollout? Lopez said the intention is to do bigger things with the service, hinting that more cities will launch soon. Other media reports suggested recently the next city could be New York, based on publicly listed Amazon job openings in the city, but Lopez said that’s not necessarily the case: Seattle and New York are where the Amazon Restaurants team is located, which is one reason why the listings would indicate those cities.

Some customers in Seattle, who have the Prime Now mobile app, will start seeing the new restaurant feature starting as early today, but it’s intended to be a slow roll-out, meaning that more neighborhoods will be added over the next couple of weeks. From inside the app, customers can browse menus, place orders and track the status of their delivery in real time. Once an order is placed, Amazon delivery drivers pick up and deliver the food within an hour or less.

Two-hour delivery via Prime Now is free to Amazon Prime customers, who pay $99 a year for an annual membership, and one-hour delivery costs $7.99. In this case, there is no charge for meals to show up at your doorstep within 60 minutes (with a $20 minimum). Amazon pledges not to mark up the cost of menu items, and instead is charging the restaurant an undisclosed percent of each order, according to Lopez. Tipping is optional (although the tip goes to the driver, not the restaurant).

Amazon has nibbled around the edges of restaurant delivery in the past. 

For example, the current Amazon Local app lets users in Seattle order food for carryout, but Amazon does not make the deliveries. Therefore, this marks the first time Amazon is directly entering the food delivery business, which is already crowded with a number of high-tech entrants, including GrubHub, Eat24 and Peach. With today’s launch it will also be fulfilling the same consumer appetite as other services, such as Munchery, which delivers meals from their own kitchen.

Amazon launches restaurant delivery via Prime Now, offering one-hour delivery for popular restaurants like Wild Ginger.
Amazon’s new one-hour delivery service includes popular restaurants like Wild Ginger.

Prime Now’s launch in Seattle just two weeks ago was notable because it was the first time Amazon started delivering beer, wine and liquor in the U.S. via the service. Now, with restaurant meals, customers will be able to order a bottle of wine to go with that meal. However, those orders will be considered two separate transactions, and therefore, could arrive via two separate drivers.

Unlike other services, Lopez said its delivery service is not going through a third-party, like Uber or Postmates, and that customers should expect the drivers to show up with a Prime Now uniform, including shirts and a matching hat. He said the fleet will be managing both product and food deliveries side-by-side, so it is possible for one driver to start off in the company’s urban fulfillment centers in downtown Seattle and Kirkland, but then to be redirected to a restaurant to fulfill an order on the way to another location.

“One of the nice things about adding new categories is that you get through nice efficiencies by having a common fleet of drivers,” he said. As the service matures, he said it’s very realistic that they would have to hire more drivers.

There has been some suspicion that Amazon is considering a crowdsourced package delivery service that might leverage third-party drivers. Recently, GeekWire discovered signs inside the company’s Kirkland, Wash., facility indicating that something called “Amazon Flex,” a new way for the company to distribute packages, possibly letting customers pick up items from the Prime Now center themselves.

Lopez would not comment on Amazon Flex for this story, or how Amazon Restaurants might use it. But he was willing to confirm that the deliveryman would not be Richard Sherman.

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