Update (Aug 5th, 2021): I stopped using Mealpal because I had gone back home during the pandemic, and just recently moved back this last May. Even though I’m no longer commuting to work, I got back on Mealpal and was happy to see that all of the things I loved about Mealpal are still there and the changes they implemented have been improvements for the most part. All of my favorite restaurants (NAYA!) on Mealpal are still there, and they even added more awesome fast casual chains like Dig Inn, Sweetgreen, and Little Beet. I went to Naya last week and was surprised to see the lunch rush line was still as long as it was pre-pandemic. Skipping the line felt just as good as it did before. That being said, I’m not staying on Mealpal because I live in Downtown Brooklyn now and am not going in for work. The options around here look like they are growing, but I just don’t have enough options within a 10 minute walk for it to be worth it right now. If you live in Manhattan, I still highly recommend giving Mealpal a shot and all of the opinions in this post still apply.
It’s been three months since I started using Mealpal to take care of my work-week lunches. I was pretty skeptical about the service at first, so I decided to document my experience and put together a Mealpal review. You’re probably reading this because you’re curious about it and jumping into research mode, so hopefully reading about my experience will help you figure out if Mealpal is right for you!
A little about me: I work in the Flatiron District in Manhattan and have no dietary restrictions. If you can’t already tell by the fact that I have a food blog, I also give a shit about eating well.
My experience has only been in NYC. While the review will give you a good idea of how the service works, I recommend looking up other reviews specific to your city to see what the general consensus is. Your experience with Mealpal is going to be very dependent on the quality and quantity of restaurants in your area!
What is Mealpal and how does it work?
Mealpal isn’t a delivery service or a restaurant, it’s an online platform that allows you to reserve meals ahead of time for $6-$6.39 a meal. Mealpal works with tons of restaurants around the city, and each restaurant makes one item each day. The “menu” is a collection of all of those items. To order, you go on the app or website between the hours of 5:00 PM (day before) and 10:30 AM (day of), and choose a meal. At lunch time you show up, skip the line, scan the QR code from the app, and you’re on your way.
You purchase your meals in a 12 or 20 pack, which comes out to $6.39 or $6.00 per meal respectively. Those meals are good for your 30-day billing cycle and meals do not roll over. Note that Mealpal only works on weekdays, so that means you have to be diligent about using Mealpal every single day if you get the 20 pack. Personally, I recommend the 12 pack because it gives me 8 days in the month where I can bring lunch or eat at restaurants that aren’t on Mealpal.
Mealpal’s value proposition is actually really interesting because it’s a win-win-win situation. Restaurants get a predictable number of orders each day and can make one item in large quantities, we get really cheap lunch, and Mealpal probably takes a small cut of each order and also cashes in on everyone who doesn’t use up all of their lunches. Oh yeah, they probably sell data too but who doesn’t these days?
How’s the food?
Totally dependent on the restaurants around you. There’s good and bad. In my area, the menu ranges from a Papaya Dog that offers two hot dogs and a drink all the way to a Blue Smoke that puts their $13 fried chicken sandwich up for grabs. Most of my lunches have been excellent, but I definitely had a few bad meals when I first started out. Make sure to read my tips section to avoid the mistakes I made.
Here are some of those mistakes:
One question most people have is, “Don’t they just give you tiny portions?” The answer is that it depends. Yeah, there are some places that will skimp you, but I’d say most places give you the full-sized portion or at least enough food to make it worth your while. You’ll learn pretty quick to differentiate between the ones that will cheat you and the ones that won’t. Searching Yelp reviews for MealPal is also a good preventative measure!
Some of my favorite lunches from Mealpal:
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the variety of restaurants. Within a 10 minute walk from my office, I can get pretty much any type of food I want. Ramen, pizza, sandwiches, salads, fried chicken, etc. There are a ton of fast casual joints, but also a surprising amount of upscale bars/restaurants that are trying to make some extra coin during the lunch hour.
Update (Aug 5th, 2021): They have added a ton of restaurants and all of my favorite fast casual chains like Sweet Green, Little Beet, and Dig Inn. These are probably some of the most worthwhile spots to reserve on Mealpal since they usually cost around $15+ and you know what you’re getting.
I’ve also written a review for Wok Wok, who is on Mealpal. Check it out here!
- Legitimately saves you a lot of money. Knowing that you paid $6 for the same thing someone else paid $13 is a pretty good feeling.
- No lines, no need to pay. It’s super convenient to skip the line and pick up your food. This also means you don’t have to spend time pulling out your card and paying!
- Exploring new restaurants. There are about five restaurants that I now love, that I probably wouldn’t have tried without Mealpal.
- Distance. Sometimes I see something that I actually really want to get, but it’s just too far to walk.
The best items can sell out. People in my area have caught on to some of my favorite meals, and they can sell out within a minute. To ensure that you get the most out of Mealpal, you have to be diligent about reserving a meal at exactly 5 PM each day.
- Missing out on lunches with coworkers. Sometimes my coworkers decide to go to a place I really like, but it’s too late to cancel my meal.
- Cold food. This is a rare occurrence, but it can happen. Some restaurants will prepare a large batch and let the food sit until you come to get it. If they made it at 11:30 and you pick it up at 2, it can be sitting there for a couple of hours. A good amount of places will have an insulation box to keep the food warm though! I’ve only had a couple cold meals.
- No modifications. If you’re an extremely picky eater, Mealpal is probably not for you.
- Yelp a restaurant and search “Mealpal” in the reviews before placing an order
- Check your area on the map on mealpal.com and verify that there are lots of choices near you. You won’t be able to see the actual restaurants or dishes until you are signed up, so the only way to check those out before signing up is to look at them via a friend who already is.
- Set a reminder for yourself at 4:59 PM every day so you can log in exactly at 5:00 PM to snag the best meals which sell out in the first minute!
- Plan ahead so you are using every single meal each billing cycle
- The time you set for pickup doesn’t matter. It’s very flexible. Just show up anytime between 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
- Do Mealpal every other month. At some point, you do end up going to all the same restaurants over and over. Nothing wrong with taking a break!
While there are some downsides to using Mealpal, I think the benefits far outweigh the costs. I think the service is great for someone who works in the city, isn’t a picky eater, and is willing to pre-order tomorrow’s lunch each day. Cutting my lunch cost in half has been pretty great, and I don’t really mind pre-ordering each day. I don’t plan to stop using Mealpal anytime soon, and I’m expecting that they will continue to add new restaurants and improve their app. If you don’t have dietary restrictions and want to cut down on your lunch costs, I highly recommend giving Mealpal a shot. I hope you’ve found my Mealpal review helpful. If you have, please consider using my referral link/promo code below!
Update: I’ve been going strong with Mealpal for over almost six months now. My company moved to Fidi, and the options around here are pretty solid but not as good as the Flatiron options. I am definitely starting to get tired of going to the same restaurants over and over, but it’s just such a good deal I’m not sure if I can give it up just yet. My thoughts in this review still hold true though!
Mealpal Referral link / promo code
Sign up using my referral link before and you’ll get $20 off your first month! Even if you don’t end up sticking with Mealpal, it’s definitely worth it to give it try and take advantage of the promo. Sometimes Mealpal turns the promo on and off, so make sure you the following message when you click the link!
If you love snagging a good deal on food, make sure to check out my Seated review too! It’s like Opentable or Resy, but you get 20-45% of your bill back in Amazon giftcards.