A week into my monthly MealPal subscription, I’ve had a roast chicken roll, a barbecue chicken banh mi, a chicken wrap, and a chicken salsa sandwich. That’s… a lot of chicken. But it’s all by choice. Each night I’ve chosen tomorrow’s lunch from a long list, and each lunchtime I’ve made a short walk to pick it up from near my office. This is MealPal, a new subscription lunch service in Sydney, and it actually works really well for me.
MealPal, just launched in Sydney, already exists in a dozen world cities like NYC, London, Chicago and Toronto. It’s a flat-fee monthly subscription service — $149 for 20 lunches over 30 days, or $96 for 12 lunches over the same time period. That’s $7.49 per lunch on the every-working-day plan, and $7.99 on the three-days-a-week plan. (There’s also a promo that gives you $40 off your first month, so my lunches at the moment are $5.45.)
The idea is pretty simple: each weekday afternoon after 5PM, you get an email in your inbox — it tells you to choose your lunch for the day ahead. The selection is fantastic: Sydney’s northern CBD has some great food around, and there are quality cafes like Jimmy’s Recipe that lunchtime city faithfuls will recognise.
You can choose from a light, medium or heavy meal; I’m a growing boy, so I’ve always opted for a lot of food — or a medium when I was a little bit dusty after a work party last Friday. The light meals are of the rice paper roll or berry smoothie variety, and otherwise there’s a mix of laksa or noodles or fish and salad or the usual wraps and burgers that you’d expect.
There are dozens of restaurants and cafes around the Sydney CBD that MealPal has signed on as partners, and the process is equally straightforward. Walk up to the counter, within a 15-minute window that you’ve picked when you ordered, and the food should be there and waiting. No queues. In reality, some places will make your lunch fresh for you, but you can walk straight up to the counter and ask for it.
So far, the experience has been excellent. Each lunch has been ready when I’ve gone to pick it up, and the food is exactly what it would have been had I stood in line and paid full price for it. The food is good, the daily process is straightforward and makes you excited for lunch, the price is very very attractive — about two thirds of what I’d normally be paying for lunch in the city.
Rae, my colleague here at Giz, has signed up to the 12-a-month plan. Her rationale is — and it’s more well thought-out than mine — we occasionally have lunchtime events or free food in the office, so she doesn’t need every lunch every working day of the week. If she’s going to be in the office and has a pretty good idea that there’s not going to be a freebie, she’ll order a MealPal lunch.
There’s one caveat. MealPal’s sort-of strict pickup times — which you have to lock in when you make the booking, so either after 5PM the night before or before 9:30AM that morning — might turn some off. My daily schedule is a little bit frenetic at the best of times, so I definitely foresee a situation where I can’t pick up a lunch because I’ve got to write a story or I forgot about a meeting. But if I’m saving anywhere between $3 and $6 on lunch each day, I can afford to slip once or twice.
I’m a week into my subscription, I’ve missed one of the meals that I could have had out of negligence, which is a definite waste on the 20-meal subscription. But you could ask a co-worker to pick up your lunch for you, or have enough forward planning to offer it to someone else you work with for brownie points — or actual brownies. That’s probably not in the terms of service, by the way. But you could. So far, MealPal is working out really nicely for me. I’ll keep using it. [MealPal]