Another new start-up is aiming to take a bite of the lunchtime market — this time with a hope that the promise of cheaper lunch will draw office drones out of their cubes. New website MealPass works a lot like co-founder Mary Biggins' first start-up hit, fitness program ClassPass. Members of MealPass, which Biggins started with Katie Ghelli, pay a flat monthly fee, which will start at $99 and eventually go up to $119 for New Yorkers. In exchange, they can pick up lunch any weekday from MealPass's line-up of restaurants, which includes Just Salad and Sticky's Finger Joint, without additional cost. Their pitch: A person who used it every weekday could end up paying less than $5 per meal.
MealPass launched in Boston and Miami in January, and since then, people have ordered lunch more than 25,000 times through the site, Biggins said. On Wednesday, it will launch in New York in Chelsea, the Flatiron, Union Square, and Gramercy with more than 100 restaurants, and more neighborhoods and cities are planned later down the road.
Here's how it works: Participating restaurants offer one lunch option every day as part of the program. In New York, about 130 restaurants are currently participating. Lunch menus will pop up at 7:00 p.m. the day before, and MealPass members must choose what they want for lunch by 9:30 a.m., giving restaurants time to prepare. At lunch, people pick up their meals at the restaurant, skipping the line and never exchanging cash with the restaurant itself.
Meanwhile, restaurants aren't supposed to skimp for MealPass customers. The offerings must also appear on the regular menu, though they can limit the number of MealPass people coming in each day based on capacity. "We want to make sure they offer appropriate lunches," Biggins says. "We only want to work with people who are going to be great lunch options."
The company is targeting people who want to pay less for lunch, Biggins says. "When people think about lunch, there's three elements: convenience, affordability, and actually having good food," Biggins says. While delivery start-ups like Caviar or UberEats focuses more on the convenience side, MealPass goes for the affordability portion, she says. "Let’s figure out how to give you really good food at an affordable rate," she says.
But it's less clear how much of a financial upside it is for the people making the food. Biggins declined to say how the payment process works between MealPass and their participating restaurants. However, she noted that MealPass is a way for restaurants to get people in and out the door during lunch quickly, thus cutting down on labor costs. "One customer is [usually] going to take up all the time of one employee," Biggins says. "We take the process out of it. Restaurants are able to get more output in their busiest time of day." In one test in Boston, a salad restaurant was able to get through five times more customers when they were all ordering the same MealPass item, versus individual custom salads.
Early word from other Eater Cities is that the selection of restaurants for MealPass is decent, and for people who work in the neighborhoods where MealPass is available, it can be convenient. Still, MealPass just started, and while the start-up world's treatment of the restaurant industry has been great for consumers, stories have eventually trickled out regarding the downfalls for restaurants — from poor customer service for restaurants at Seamless to high commissions at UberEats. In New York, Liquiteria, Mulberry and Vine, Sarabeth's, Kat and Theo, and Hunan Bistro have all signed on. You can join the service on Wednesday through the website, and if you try it, please do let us know what you think.