Review: MealPal Makes Packing Your Lunch a Little Easier. And Cheaper.

Your weekday lunch dilemma, solved (with a few technical quibbles)

February 8, 2024 10:39 am
MealPal lunches from the NYC restaurant Naya
MealPal lunches from the NYC restaurant Naya

Nota bene: If you buy through the links in this article, we may earn a small share of the profits.

What’s for lunch?

It’s the first question almost everyone asks when they get back to the office, and for good reason: It’s a small reward waiting for you about halfway through your day. 

The problem, particularly recently: You may have hundreds of lunch options, but quality varies and prices have skyrocketed. 

With that in mind, I spent a few months testing out MealPal. The service isn’t new — it was launched in 2016 by ClassPass co-founder Mary Biggins and ZocDoc alum Katie Ghelli. It pretty much operates as a ClassPass for food: Buy credits and get a curated selection of discounted meals from various local merchants. And we do mean discounted; the service suggests that you may discover lunches for $3.48 per meal (but really, think a few bucks more on average). Anecdotally, a publicist for MealPal told me that one journalist who used the service for five years saved an estimated $3,260.

While MealPal was been around for a bit, the company just launched two big initiatives (one environmental, one health-related) in the past few months. With that in mind, I decided to test out the lunch program over a series of weeks in the late fall and early winter, utilizing restaurants and food halls near the InsideHook office in midtown Manhattan (MealPal is currently available in 20 cities across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand).

Note: There is a “Workpals” option, a social feature that allows users to see what meals their co-workers are reserving. It’s supposed to make lunch pickups with colleagues easier (and it’s a good way to see what other people are ordering); that said, I did not try this and this seems best suited to very large workspaces that are using MealPal en masse. 

It’s Totally Fine to Eat Lunch Before Noon
You can eat lunch whenever you want, you’re an adult

How MealPal works

  • Buy credits: It depends on where you live, but you can buy, for example, 70 food credits for $89 (excluding taxes). Meals are available for between 3 and 14 credits, depending on the retail price of the meal (on average, I spent about 8-9). Plans usually last for a 30-day cycle and automatically renew after that time or when you have less than 10 credits remaining, whichever comes first. You can rollover your unused credits to your new, continuous cycle.
  • At the restaurant, open the MealPal app and tap “Pick Up.” Then you show the confirmation screen and pick up the meal. If you don’t see a QR code at the restaurant, you’re supposed to follow the instructions in the app to pick up the meal. And that’s it — if you want to tip, you can do so in the app.
  • The MealPal lunch kitchen opens daily at 5:00 PM, local time. The lunch kitchen closes at 1:30 p.m. the next day. Log in while the lunch kitchen is open to reserve your lunch; you can change your lunch reservation to a different meal, cancel your reservation and/or select another meal before 10:30 a.m.
Mealpal images
A map of participating restaurants and a sample meal from MealPal

What we liked:

  • You save money. That $3.48 figure listed above is a little generous, but another figure the company suggested (40% off) seemed in line with what I was saving for a normal workday lunch. A $9 sandwich or Thai chicken dish that’s usually $15? Sure, count me in.
  • It solves a mind-crippling Paradox of Choice. Instead of offering me everything, I could simply look at about 15-20 selections (one per restaurant) within walking distance, choose a meal and then forget about it until pickup time. It was enough choice without being overwhelming, and every meal I chose came from a merchant I would have visited on my own — or was excited to discover. 
  • I tried about 12 meals through the service at 12 different restaurants — and I never felt cheated out of a larger meal or disappointed with the food. Occasionally the offered meal seemed proprietary to MealPal customers and perhaps it lacked a few items that would have been available if I had ordered it without the service — a bag of chips, a free soda, etc. — but overall I never felt hungry or dissatisfied with the quantity or quality of food.

What needs work:

  • Your patience will be tested at first. Every single restaurant has a different pickup spot for MealPal and a different way to signal to the staff that you’re there to grab a meal you ordered from your app. It may not be the same way (or place) you’d pick up something from a delivery app.
  • Speaking of pickup: Once at the restaurant, you’re supposed to scan a QR code and show the restaurant your confirmation screen. That screen expires after three minutes. If you don’t know where or how to pick up your meal, you may end up nervously watching a three-minute countdown on your phone with no idea if or when your meal is coming.
A sample reusable container and return bin for MealPal's new green initiative
A sample reusable container and return bin for MealPal’s new green initiative

What’s new:

  • In September, MealPal started working with 170+ of NYC’s fast-casual eateries such as NAYA, Beatnic, Pokeworks, Glaze, The Little Beet, Fields Good Chicken, Mighty Quinn’s BBQ and more to offer sustainable, reusable packaging. You’ll have to return the container to the restaurant within one week to avoid a $5 packaging fee. 
  • This month, MealPal launched a new fitness element that combines healthy, RD-approved meals with unlimited fitness classes from various NYC studios. Each class is paired with a healthy meal, which you’ll get after the class. The company also partnered with a Registered Dietitian to certify healthy meals on the app based on nutritional value.

Should you use MealPal?

MealPal is a good way to save a modest amount of money on your weekday lunch and enjoy a delicious, potentially healthy meal (it depends on how you use it and what you choose to eat, of course). If I used it every time I went to the office, I’d save roughly $600 per year. If you live in a participating city, work frequently out of an office and can get over the awkward pick-up mechanics, it’s one less thing to worry about during your dreary work day. 


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