The Uber Eats “$25 Off” Promo Proves There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

I ended up paying $7.57 out of pocket and didn’t even get what I ordered

The older I get, the more annoyed I get with what seems like the endless number of companies that offer discounts or promos that are total scams. Or, even if they aren’t a scam, the customer service is just so poor it’s not worth it.

For example, a few weeks ago, I had a horrible experience with DoorDash, where I tried using their app for the first time ever, and ended up paying $87.01 for dinner for my family… but it was delivered it to the wrong house. We never got our dinner at all, and the driver didn’t care whatsoever and couldn’t be bothered to help us. (But that’s a story for another time). Anyway, DoorDash is on the naughty list for me and will be for a long time.

But a week or two ago, I got a little pop-up on my iPhone from my Uber app that said said “Here’s a free meal! Enjoy $25 off.” Well, I wasn’t expecting that. $25 off for free? That sounds awesome. After the DoorDash debacle, I had no interest in using Uber Eats, but being paid $25 just to try it? It sounded like a free lunch, and that doesn’t suck, right?

Whoa, $25 off, for free? Not a bad deal!

So this week, I decided to try it out. I was at my office downtown and figured I’d order lunch using my shiny, new $25 off from Uber Eats. Why not? My experience turned out to be just as frustrating as last time, and it makes me wonder if I’ll ever use an app to get food delivered again. Here’s why.

My options for spending $25 were very limited; mostly fast-food chains.

Of course, I wasn’t expecting to get lobster or a steak with a $25 promo… but I was surprised to see that if I wanted to use my promo to pay for the whole thing, the places I could afford were mostly McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or Subway. There’s nothing wrong with that, but wow, $25 on a food delivery app does not go very far.

The app kept defaulting to “pick up” instead of delivery.

I don’t exactly understand the point of this: I thought Uber Eats was a food delivery app. But I had to keep manually selecting “delivery” as the option I wanted rather than “pick up.” Maybe because my ticket size was so small? I’m not sure. But I don’t get why you’d hire a company like Uber, which is known for transportation to put in an order that I’d have to go pick up myself. In my mind, that defeats the entire purpose of the app.

I opened up the app and started looking around at what my options were. I decided to try a mom-and-pop Vietnamese restaurant very close to me. I love Asian cuisine, and I’ve gotten takeout from Vietnamese places before, and it’s always a good option, even if it is messy sometimes (getting Bún or Phở via takeout requires containers of liquid that take time to assemble for eating). That’s okay, I figured: I’m up for a little mess… especially since I’m not paying for lunch.

Note: the weirdest part about this, was that my $25 promo specifically stated it was for “delivery orders only.” Was it actually trying to make me order something on the app that would not qualify for the promo that prompted me to order from the app in the first place? Whoa… I don’t know the answer to that, but if so, that is a really dirty trick.

Beware: the food prices on Uber Eats’ menu may be inflated

This wasn’t a huge surprise, since I know Uber needs to make money. But comparing the menu from the restaurant directly, it looks like some of the prices are more in the Uber Eats app than they are if I just walked in the door and ordered.

In my case, I decided to order Pho Xe Lua (Special Beef Noodle Soup). From what I can tell, the entree would be $12.99 if I walked into the store and bought it off the menu. In the app, it’s $15.99, so it’s $3.00 extra. Again, not a huge deal, but something to keep in mind.

Mmm… delicious soup. It’s $12.99 at the restaurant, but $15.99 in the app.

On top of the food prices, the fees start adding up like crazy

I added the Special Beef Noodle Soup ($15.99) to my cart, then decided to throw in a side of Vietnamese Spring Rolls ($5.99). So far so good… at $21.98, lunch was now getting pricey, but that’s okay, I’ve got my $25 discount, right? No big deal.

But wait, did I want sauce with that? If so, peanut sauce would be an extra $1.00 and hoisin sauce was an additional $0.50. Hmm… that’s a little weird. That’s usually included. Why would I have to pay extra for this? (Note: checking the menu—on the restaurant’s actual website, not the Uber Eats app—shows me that, indeed, if I ordered direct from the restaurant, it would be included).

Okay, so sure, why not. Toss in an additional $1.50 worth of sauce. Money Ain’t a Thang… Uber’s buying! So now my total is $23.48. Still under the $25 mark. Brilliant.

Time to check out and get my free lunch, right? Whoa, not so fast. As the app calculates my total, it adds $2.04 in tax, tacks on $3.50 for a “service fee” and $0.99 for a “delivery fee.” Added up, this is $6.53 in additional fees after paying extra for the sauces, which inflates my bill by almost 28%.

Now my new total is $30.01. Yikes. For one lunch?

It then suggested I join “Uber One” to save on fees, but that requires paying for a $10 monthly subscription

Ahh, yes, since apparently, every company on earth is trying to get people to sign up for monthly subscriptions, I could sign up for Uber One which is free for one month, then costs $9.99/mo.

Okay, this is starting to get annoying, but fine… I’ll join for free for one month, then cancel. By doing that, it now takes off $2.47 for a “membership benefit” and removes the $0.99 delivery fee. So by adding a subscription that will cost me almost $120/year if I forget to cancel it, I can save $3.46 today. I’ll bite.

Now my $30.01 total is now reduced to $26.55. Okay, no big deal. I’m just $1.55 over my $25 promo. $1.55 for lunch is a screamin’ deal. But wait… no, my total is more than that.

Of course, it is. Because I only ordered $23.48 worth of food, and the $25 promo doesn’t cover fees and taxes. Okay, fine, so with the promo not quite covering $25, my new total is $3.07. Still not bad for lunch, right? I hit the order button. A new screen surprised me.

The app shamed me into tipping the delivery driver

It was suggested I add a tip for the driver. My options? It started by suggesting I leave a 22% tip.

Wait, what? A tip? On top of the delivery charge? For something I haven’t gotten yet? And a 22% tip at that? That’s even more than the industry standard of 20% for “excellent service” at a real sit-down restaurant where an actual server waits on you for a half hour or an hour.

The second option was 18%. Note: there was not a “no tip” or “0%” option at all. The last option said “custom” which I supposed I could have creatively used to manually put in 0% myself, but this whole user interface is designed to pressure and shame me into leaving a tip.

But here’s the thing: the restaurant I ordered from is literally 800 feet from my office. It’s one block away. According to Apple Maps, if I had walked to pick up the order, it would have taken me 4 minutes. Why would I tip someone 22% for delivering one meal 800 feet? That made absolutely no sense.

In shame, I chose the second option: 18%. That added $4.50 to my total. So, at the end of the day, if I hadn’t used the $25 promo code, and was paying out of pocket, and hadn’t signed up for a trial of Uber One, my order of noodle soup plus spring rolls—for one person—would now cost me $34.51.

This was totally getting out of hand. How could anybody afford to use an app like this?

I submitted the order and figured it was still sort of a kind of almost free lunch. There was an option to pay an additional $2.99 to get “priority” delivery, in just 10–20 minutes. I obviously ignored this option and chose to wait, like a pauper, for 20 or 30 minutes for “standard” delivery.

It’s really not that far… they want me to tip for this delivery?

When lunch was delivered, I didn’t even get what I ordered

This is the craziest part: I didn’t even get what I ordered. I ordered soup. Soup is a hot, savory liquid that comes in a bowl and has yummy things floating in it. Everybody knows this. But somehow, my order was totally bungled—I got everything I had asked for except for the soup!

According to the Uber Eats app, my “Special Beef Noodle Soup” comes with “rare beef, broiled beef slices, tendon, tripe, and beef meatballs.” Sounds delicious, right? But what did I get? A styrofoam box with cold, raw meat, noodles, a soup spoon, chopsticks, and… no soup.

Spring rolls are yummy… but what am I supposed to do with all this raw meat? Where’s the soup?

How did this even happen? How did the restaurant make this mistake? How did the delivery driver not catch the mistake? By the time I noticed it, the delivery driver (who I had prematurely tipped 22%, don’t forget) had already driven away.

I contacted Uber immediately to get help; they took 14 hours to respond

I opened the help section of the app and filed a support ticket, selecting “wrong or missing items” as the reason. I was immediately notified that “this order isn’t eligible for a refund.” Well, that’s weird. Why not? I didn’t get what I ordered… why would I not be entitled to a refund?

Okay, let’s say it’s not eligible for a refund. Can you at least make it right and give me what I ordered? I had hoped someone at Uber would at least reach out to the restaurant and find a way to correct the mistake. But no; I submitted my support ticket and didn’t hear anything at all from either Uber or the restaurant until 14 hours later.

When Uber finally responded to my complaint, they said they couldn’t help me or give me a refund

The next day, I got an email from Uber saying:

“I appreciate you letting us know about the incorrect item and I understand this experience has been frustrating, but this order isn’t eligible for a refund.”

What? They’re not going to do anything at all? What rotten customer service.

“Thanks for your understanding?” — Help me, I don’t understand

I’m not being unreasonable here. I get it: I know that technically, I didn’t pay $30 for lunch out of my pocket: I paid less than $10. But still, I cannot understand how Uber thinks it’s okay that I ordered a meal, and didn’t get it, and that I’m out the cost that I did pay.

Yes, I technically could have called the restaurant and told them what happened. But then what? Either they’d have to send someone to deliver the actual soup to my office, or I’d have to go pick it up. All of this defeats the entire purpose of using an app like Uber Eats in the first place. So what’s the point? They’re the ones who messed up my order; they should be the ones to have to fix it, not me.

My Conclusion: I will probably never use Uber Eats ever again.

I canceled the Uber One subscription I never wanted in the first place (which was hard to do—I had to go through four separate screens telling the app that I really, truly do want to cancel) and I don’t see myself using Uber Eats again.

And here’s what is so weird about this whole exercise in frustration: I never even wanted to use Uber Eats in the first place. They prompted me to try it out by “giving me” $25 off an order. That was enough to make me try it. Once. But I won’t be fooled again.

The net result for me is that I wasted $7.57 of my money on a lunch I couldn’t eat. The net result for Uber is that they wasted $23.48 of their money, and converted me from someone who was indifferent to Uber Eats into an upset customer who feels insulted.

Next time, I think I’ll just walk over to a fast food joined and spend $8 on a hamburger.

(Update: I finally did hear back from Uber — maybe because of this post — and they gave me another promo to try them again. I did, and my subsequent order wasn’t ruined, but I don’t understand why it was so hard for them to just make it right in the first place.)

Leave a Comment