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MealPass, ClassPass-Style Lunch Start-Up, Expands Downtown and Doubles Restaurant Footprint

Convincing restaurants it’s different from other start-ups has been the biggest challenge

MealPass MealPass

MealPass, the lunch start-up from the ClassPass founder, is expanding to all of Manhattan south of 60th Street today, doubling its network of available restaurants from 300 to 600. The company, which joined New York’s competitive food tech scene in March, allows people to prepay for a month’s worth of weekday lunches for $119 — a bid to attract office workers looking for cheaper meals. About 200,000 lunch orders have been placed through MealPass in NYC since then, founder Mary Biggins says.

Restaurants such as Bread, Bill's Bar & Burger, Spring Street Natural, and Nish Nush are being added, and in addition to the footprint expansion, MealPass launched a mobile app for members on Monday to serve the approximately 70 percent of users who currently order lunch on their phones. Early word of MealPass has largely been positive, but even fans have complained of the poor mobile user experience.

Biggins is aware that the diners have had issues with the tech — and the delay in better diner tech was built into the launch. The way restaurants received and processed orders was more of a priority early on, she says. "We knew at launch that our consumer app had to be okay, but our restaurant app had to be really good," Biggins says. Different restaurants use different systems, from faxing to emailing, and they had to meet all of those needs in order to attract restaurants to MealPass. "We cannot add any operational overheard to their business," she says. "They’re too busy for that."

MealPass’s mobile app

MealPass’s focus on restaurant customer experience partly has to do with how competitive the food start-up market has become in New York. Biggins says one of the most challenging aspects of expanding MealPass has been educating restaurants on how it is different from the slew of other companies fighting for their cash. Though MealPass does not offer delivery, competition — from companies like UberEats, Doordash, and Amazon — has left many business owners feeling bombarded by start-ups. And many of the companies, including Seamless and Postmates, have had public, shaky relationships with business owners. "There’s restaurant fatigue and there is consumer fatigue," Biggins says. "It’s hard to differentiate."

So far, MealPass hasn’t suffered from the same complaints. Early reactions from restaurants (approached independently of MealPass) have been mostly positive, with most saying that it was little to no extra cost and that it had the marketing upside of bringing customers into the restaurant itself. Restaurants also only offer a set number of one option per day, meaning faster prep and the ability to plan ahead.

Moving forward, the company will likely focus on adding more restaurants south of 60th Street instead of expanding north to cater to office workers, Biggins says. By the end of the month, diners will also be able to choose cheaper meal plan options, such as $79-per-month for 12 meals, up front. Currently, people must email MealPass to request cheaper options.

And as part of the launch of the mobile app, the company is giving out free Melt Bakery ice cream sandwiches between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. at several locations, including in the Nomad neighborhood WeWork at 261 Madison Ave., in Bryant Park at 54 W 40th St., in FiDi at 85 Broad St., in Chelsea at 178 8th Ave., and in Murray Hill at 428 3rd Ave.

Despite the challenges with the crowded food start-up space, MealPass is expanding later this month to San Francisco, probably the only city that boasts even more food start-ups than New York. But Biggins says she’s confident they’re different enough to make it work. "We try to stay true to our goal and our mission," she says. "We want to make lunch easy for the consumers, and we want to make it easier for the restaurants."