Illustration of sandwiches being prepared for a box lunch, 1931. Screen print. Photo: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

The latest craze among the weekday lunch crowd in San Francisco, among other cities, is an app called MealPal that lets customers grab a meal for about $6, usually at least $2–$3 below the normal cost.

Bottom line: MealPal is far from the first startup to try to improve the lunch experience, from apps like OrderAhead, for pre-ordering meals, or Allset, for skipping the line at restaurants, to various loyalty services for frequent patrons.

  • But according to MealPal co-founder and CEO Mary Biggins, who previously helped start fitness class subscription company ClassPass, her company’s winning combination is that it makes lunch more convenient for customers (they pre-order their meals) and also saves them money.

How it works: Every day, MealPal restaurants select a meal for the app’s customers. More than 90% of those meals are already available on the restaurants’ regular menu, though some do prepare a special portion or item for MealPal users. Customers purchase monthly meal subscription plans, which vary slightly per city, and choose which restaurants to visit each day to get lunch.

  • For restaurants, this is an efficient way to prepare a large number of meals quickly and easily as they receive the day’s orders in the morning, says Biggins.
  • MealPal already has 4,000 restaurants across 16 cities in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and only 7% of restaurants who have tried the service have left, according to Biggins.
  • The company has also been able to keep its marketing spend minimal — more than 80% of its customers heard about the service via a friend or co-worker.

What’s next: New York-based MealPal, which has raised $35 million in funding since its founding in 2016, is quietly working on ways to let entrepreneurs sell lunches via its service without needing all the expensive trappings of a conventional restaurant, like a storefront. Biggins wouldn’t share more details about how that would work but did say that meals will be for pick up, not delivery.

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