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Postmates launches deliver-anything service today in D.C.

Bastian Lehmann says he had customers in Washington just waiting for his business to go live. Literally.

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The co-founder and CEO of Postmates, a San Francisco-based company that promises to deliver anything to your door in under an hour, explains that nearly 1,000 Washingtonians had already downloaded the free Apple-compatible app before the company even debuted in the District. Postmates officially starts delivering the goods today for a large swath of Washington, from approximately Tenleytown to the Southwest waterfront.

It will either be the best day for the launch (for all the house-bound federal workers looking for a meal delivered to their doorsteps) or the worst day (for the actual delivery drivers).

Postmates promises in press materials to "deliver from every merchant" in the District, but as Lehmann said during an interview that if those merchants are restaurants, they'll have to offer take-out food in the first place. You can't force a chef-driven operation to subject its food to the horrors of take-out  containers.

"It’s not our intention to annoy anyone," Lehmann says. "It’s our intention to grow their business.”

So while a restaurant such as Marcel's may never take part in Postmates ("For fine dining, you should dine in the restaurant," veteran maitre d' Adnane Kebaier tells me), Lehmann says hundreds of other D.C. eateries will. Several hundred restaurants are currently in the Postmates database for Washington, but users are not limited to those options. They can type any restaurant into the app, and the Postmates team will not only try to fetch that food for you, they'll add the place to the database, complete with menus, Lehmann says.

Postmates launched in late 2011 in San Francisco and has expanded to Seattle, New York City and now Washington. The decision to launch in D.C. was a no-brainer, says Lehmann. The District, he says, has the income, the tech-savvy and the need. More than 80 percent of the restaurants here, the CEO says, do not offer delivery.

This is where Postmates differs from services such as Seamless, which partners with restaurants. Seamless facilitates orders, sending them to the restaurant, but the restaurant itself delivers the food. Postmates does not have a sales team hustling to sign up partner restaurants. Instead, the service will place your order at the desired restaurant and then have an independent courier pick up the meal for delivery to your home.

The service, of course, comes with a fee. Postmates plans to charge between $5 and $14 per delivery depending on the travel distance. But through Friday, Dec.13, the company will offer its service for free as an introduction to Postmates.

And if you're worried that Postmates won't have enough couriers to handle the flood of requests, Lehmann offers reassurance. He says the company already has almost 200 couriers waiting to deliver your orders in the District. You'll even be able to track their progress in reaching your doorstep via the app or through text or e-mail updates.

And more couriers will likely be needed as Postmates expects to expand its delivery area in the District, much like it did in New York City, where it started small and quickly moved into other neighborhoods, including Brooklyn.  "It’s crazy how fast New York grows," Lehmann says.

He expects even faster growth in D.C.

Some details on Postmates:

• You can download the iOS app to your phone from the Postmates Web site. (The company is launching an Android beta version today.)

• You can order from thousands of merchants,whether boutiques or massive grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Harris Teeter.

• Postmates operates from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.



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