01 Jun Mealpal Review NYC: Best Meal Deal Around?
I was first introduced to Mealpal by my buddy and fellow travel blogger Nomadic Matt, who is a budget travel expert and the author of “How to Travel the World on $50 per day”. Over oysters and wine with friends he gave us the sales pitch about how awesome the app is and how it allows him to get lunch for less than $6 per day.
At first I was a bit skeptical because I work from home so I don’t usually go out for lunch – instead I buy groceries and eat something at home. I was also going away to Texas for 10 days and so I figured it would be of no use signing up if I’m away.
But when I got back a gentle reminder about the refer-a-friend deal popped up in my inbox – the promise of a $50 visa gift card for each of us if I signed up and stuck with it for 2 months. So I decided to give it a whirl and see what all the fuss is about. Here’s what I think about the app:
My Mealpal Review
Until moving to NYC I had never heard of Mealpal but now that I have, it’s one of those things I couldn’t live without. In a city with such a high cost of living, I have to find as many ways as I can to save money. I try to cook at home as much as I can but even groceries here can get pretty pricey. Even at Trader Joe’s, I’ll pop a few things in my basket and all of a sudden it’s 30 bucks.
To put it simply: Mealpal allows me to eat out but without paying an arm and a leg every day.
How Mealpal works
Mealpal has a few different plans:
Lunch – 12 meals, $6.39 per meal or 20 meals, $5.99 per meal
Dinner – 10 meals $6,99 per meal or 15 meals $6.49 per meal
To start off with I purchased 12 meals at lunchtime because I figured I may eat out for dinner with friends.
Once you’ve signed up for your plan you can browse restaurants, as long as the kitchen is open. Each restaurant has just one dish that they serve for Mealpal customers and no changes can be made to it.
After deciding what dish you’d like to eat, you can choose a 15 minute window when you’d like to pick up your food. For example, 12:15 till 12:30 or 12:30 till 12:45. When you get to the restaurant there is usually no waiting – your Mealpal order is ready for you.
It’s basically like ordering a takeaway, except you pick it up instead of getting it delivered.
The kitchen usually opens at 5pm the night before each weekday and closes at 09:30am on the day. Miss the window and you miss your day’s lunch or dinner. The good thing about the app though is you can set your phone to notify you when the kitchen is open and remind you if you haven’t ordered.
You can search for meals by location, or you can type in a specific type of cuisine or dish. Meals are arranged in a map view, or a list view. Personally I usually use the map view the most because there’s no point me finding a dish I really want that’s in the Upper East Side when I’m down in Chelsea.
Each dish has the name of the restaurant, a picture of the meal and a list of the ingredients. The photos make it really easy to see what you want and what you don’t want.
Types of meals
In Manhattan Mealpal has restaurants all over the city so there will always be something fairly close to where you’re living or working, as you can see from the map.
When you sign up there is actually a questionnaire asking you to say whether you like different types of foods, for example garlic, nuts, cilantro, milk etc. It will then tailor the results to your dietary requirements. You can also choose a portion size – small, medium or large – and if you want you can select to see only healthy options.
I usually leave it set to all foods as I’m not a fussy eater and I have no particular allergies.
Mealpal has quite a good variety of meals. I tend to love sushi so I go for the sushi a lot. You’ll also find things like pizza, burgers, pasta, tacos, burritos, sandwiches, poke bowls, salads, ramen and curry.
Here are pictures of some of the things I’ve eaten:
After testing out the app for a month here are my observations:
It’s cheap & there are good sign up deals
If you go out in NYC at lunchtime a coffee alone can cost around $4-$5. Lunch more like $10-$15. Mealpal is around $6 per lunch. Pretty damn good. If you plan it right you can sign up when there’s a deal on. When Nomadic Matt signed me up the refer a friend deal was a $50 visa gift card after 2 months. Mealpal has also been sending me emails trying to get me to sign up for the dinner plan for 40% off my first month. If you’re really smart about it then you can get the initial discount and then cancel if you’re not entirely happy with it.
I get to try new restaurants
When it comes to food it’s easy to just eat at the same places again and again. With Mealpal you can see pictures of the food and get a bit adventurous, trying meals and restaurants that you may not usually try. It encourages users to travel further afield and really see what’s out there in New York.
It gets me out of the house
Sometimes because I work from home I can end up going a full day without leaving my apartment building. If I have no food in the fridge, then I’m just super hungry. Mealpal forces me to take a break and walk down the street in the fresh air and pick up my meal.
It’s a little bit exciting
I actually get excited when I get the notification saying the kitchen is open. I like thinking about what I’m going to have the next day and looking at all the different options. The planning process is part of the fun.
There’s no waiting in line and it’s already paid for
When I arrive at the restaurant my meal is already paid for because I’ve paid for the month’s plan up front. Often at lunchtime there are long lines and so if you’re a city worker then I can imagine this is a great time saver if you have to rush back to the office.
Meals can be cancelled
Sometimes I choose something then instantly change my mind. Luckily Mealpal allows cancellations up until 09:30am the following day, so I’ll occasionally cancel and pick something else.
There are a few cons:
It’s hard to plan the night before
The kitchen usually opens at 5pm and then closes at 09:30am the following day. While I do wake up before 09:30 the last thing on my mind is ordering lunch for the day. I’m too busy trying to wake myself up, comb out my bed hair, make breakfast and answer my emails to think about lunchtime. So, I have to order the night before so I don’t forget and miss out. Unfortunately sometimes you just can’t predict what you’ll want to eat the following day, especially if you’ve just had a huge dinner. Will I want Asian food? Will I want a juicy burger? Or will I feel like eating something healthy like a salad or sushi? I just don’t know.
It’s hard to know where you’ll be
Sometimes life is spontaneous, so if you ordered your lunch in Midtown but you actually end up trotting over to Brooklyn that afternoon, you’re not going to be able to pick up your food.
It’s not open on a weekend
I sometimes wish I could use Mealpal on a weekend but I guess this is aimed at city workers who dash out of work and get lunch quickly. Most people probably want to dine out for brunch with friends on weekends or cook something at home.
I sometimes have to travel further than I’d like to get what I want
I can’t always find something I want in the nearby vicinity, which means venturing further afield. There’s an upside and a downside to this. The upside is I get to explore new places, the downside is I have to travel further in my lunch break when really I just want to buckle down and do some work.
Mealpal is totally worth it if you want to save money on lunches. For $6 you really can’t go wrong and they do have quite a large variation of meals. I’m considering signing up for the dinners too, particularly as Mealpal keeps trying to entice me with email offers of 40% off.
What I like about Mealpal is that it encourages me to try a bunch of different restaurants that I wouldn’t necessarily go to and I can really switch up my diet and try new things.
However, since it is a prepaid service you really need to use all your meals to get the value out of it. Skip a few and then you’ve not saved any money at all really. So if you’re going to sign up for it, I’d recommend starting off with a smaller meal plan – say 10 lunches – and then increase your allowance if you find yourself using it a lot. All in all though I’m very happy with it and as someone who works from home it gets me out of the house.