It’s a simple premise, MealPal users pay a monthly fee for one dish each weekday from each of its partner eateries which includes Sumo Salad, Guzman Y Gomez, Down N’ Out, Fratelli Famous, Chicken Confidential and Zeus Street Greek among the 100 already signed up. Consumers pre-order through an app and then simply pick up at a set time, avoiding the queues.
The start-up only launched around 18 months ago and has already spread to 10 cities, including New York City, Toronto, London and now Sydney.
“I think we [see ourselves] as a tool for foodservice operators but also a disruptor in the sense that we should be able to make operators more profitable and help them build better businesses,” says co-founder Mary Biggins.
“A lot of time has been spent especially at the beginning to make sure we came up with the right model. What we learned was that the biggest cost for foodservice operators was not their food costs but their labour costs. Once we understood that we were able to build a model that would help restaurants optimise that cost to be more efficient.”
The early test was a simple one. They took 22 friends and family out to lunch and timed how long it took the restaurant to make their orders – 28 minutes as it happens. Then they asked the restaurant to make 100 Cobb salads. That took just 29 minutes.
“Their output went up five fold,” says Biggins. “When you start to apply that to a restaurant’s unit economics you see they can make a lot more meals for a smaller labour cost. That enables us to buy those meals from these restaurants at a lower rate than they typically sell them for, but leave them in a position where they are still making more gross margin than they would on a customer coming in and ordering an individual meal on their menu.”
Since the app first launched it has been tweaked, with new features such as ingredients selection and maps now included in the Sydney launch. Orders need to be made before 9:30am on the day of pick up, which has an added bonus of pushing consumers to make more informed meal choices, according to Biggins.
“People are more likely to order a healthy meal when they are ordering ahead of time,” she says.
Restaurants are also able to tap into the data collected by MealPal, which shows what types of meals and ingredients are most popular. The app also allows consumers to rate the meal, according to taste, quality and portion size, which helps shore up accountability from the restaurants. If an operator decided to scrimp on ingredients it would show up instantly.
“We are able to measure the portion size data to make sure they are providing appropriately sized lunches,” she says. “Every meal should be the same size they would get by ordering in the restaurant.
“There are still many optimisations and product enhancements we want to make for our restaurants and consumers but we are really happy with the adoption we have seen so far.”
They’ve notched up more than 2 million orders to date worldwide, and they’ve only just started.