Uber is officially launching Uber Eats food delivery for businesses today, 17 months after first launching a pilot version of the service in the U.S. The company said it is now “fast-tracking” the global launch after the number of businesses customers using Uber Eats surged in March, due in part to enforced home-working policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is an important launch for Uber, as demand for ride-hailing services plummeted in the wake of shelter-at-home policies that started in the U.S. in the middle of March. In recent days, Uber has encouraged its drivers to look for work in other areas of its business, including Uber Freight, on-demand recruitment platform Uber Works, and Uber Eats. Although online food delivery services have reportedly been adversely impacted by the pandemic, Uber said it saw a 28% increase in Uber for Business customers using Uber Eats between February and March.

And while many employees are working from home during the COVID-19 crisis, essential frontline workers are still working on-site in banks, hospitals, and elsewhere. These individuals may now have limited access to food sources, another reason Uber Eats has seen a rise in demand over the past month.

Diversify

Uber has long sought to diversify its business beyond its core consumer ride-hailing service. Back in 2014, the company launched Uber for Business, making it easier for employees to bill work-related trips to their company, and it also launched UberFresh — later rebranded as UberEats — which leverages its transport network to deliver restaurant-cooked meals to people’s homes. Thus, a dedicated Uber Eats for businesses product made complete sense when it launched back in November 2018.

Starting today, Uber Eats is shedding its “pilot program” tag for businesses in the U.S. and will be made available in the U.K., Canada, France, and Brazil. The company plans to expand the service to more than 20 markets throughout 2020.

Uber Eats for businesses differs slightly from the consumer-focused incarnation. It’s aimed at travelers who want to order food to their hotel or Airbnb while on a work trip, people staying late at the office, or staff at that big lunchtime meeting. Through a dedicated dashboard, company admins can set parameters for things like per-meal allowances, location, and what time of day meals can be ordered. They can, for example, stipulate that meals only be ordered after 6 p.m. on weekdays, and they can geofence orders so they’re only made while a worker is in the office.

Employees can use the standard Uber Eats app and simply switch to their work profile when placing an order.

Uber Eats: Personal and Business accounts

Above: Uber Eats: Personal and Business accounts

The global launch also ushers in a handful of new features, including the ability to pay using an individual corporate credit card, rather than charging everything directly back to the main corporate account.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Uber was struggling to cut its losses in the quest for profitability. Uber Eats has represented the company’s fastest-growing business even as the unit loses money, with sales increasing 73% in the past year. It’s clear Uber sees the current home-working surge as an opportunity to not only keep its drivers earning money but also gain traction in the corporate lunch realm.

“We’ve made this move to respond to a surge of interest from companies looking to support employees who are working from home or who have limited food options on the road or in the field,” noted Ronnie Gurion, global head of Uber for Business. “In addition to supporting employee productivity and social distancing, this expansion is seeking to help broaden the delivery marketplace for restaurants partnered with Uber Eats and ensure that they have access to higher volume, repeat orders.”