WASHINGTON — Buying lunch every day can add up.
In D.C., a simple sandwich and a soda ring in around $10. A cup of soup and a salad will cost you nearly $12. And if you’re craving sushi, well, you can forget about putting spare pennies toward savings.
But a new-to-D.C. company wants to cut your lunchtime costs in half, making the busy workweek a lot more affordable.
The only catch: You have to buy lunch every day.
MealPal, a lunchtime subscription service already available in New York, San Francisco and Miami, launches in D.C. Sept. 19. It promises quality meals from nearby restaurants for nearly half the cost.
Here’s how it works: Customers sign up for a membership that costs $119 a month. Each work day, using the MealPal app, users can scroll through and see what the participating restaurants around them are offering for lunch. Some might have sandwiches and salads, others will feature burgers, barbecue or noodle bowls. Each restaurant offers one option, and they change daily.
Customers make the selection of what they want to eat that day, and then when it’s lunch time, they go pick it up. At the end of the month, the cost of lunch ends up being about $6 a day.
“We want to make it really easy for people to get the best lunches that they can near where they’re working, and for them to be able to get those lunches really conveniently and at an affordable rate,” said Mary Biggins, co-founder and CEO of MealPal.
The company is starting out with 75 restaurants in D.C., most of which are downtown, and Biggins is confident that number will grow. (MealPal’s New York market has more than 600 restaurants from which customers can choose.)
Some of the initial D.C. spots include José Andrés’ Beefsteak, Chix, DC Pizza and District Taco.
“Anyone working in that downtown area should have, really easily, 10 to 20 restaurants within a short walking distance of their office,” said Biggins, who is also the co-founder of ClassPass, a fitness subscription program that’s been available in D.C. for a few years.
In addition to saving money, Biggins says MealPal saves its users time. There’s no need to wait in line, and there’s no need to bring a wallet. MealPal subscribers pick up their prepaid meals directly at the cash register.
“For places that have really long lines to the door, for places like District Taco, to be able to walk in at 12:30 p.m. and not have to wait in that line should be pretty cool,” said Biggins who first launched MealPal, formerly called MealPass, in Miami in January.
Biggins says the company is able to offer the meals at a lower cost than their menu prices because MealPal brings efficiency to the restaurants by helping them predict their daily business. Users are able to see the next day’s offerings at 5 p.m. the evening before. They have until 9:30 a.m. the day of to select what they want to eat that day.
Coinciding with its launch in D.C., the company is also beefing up its app with a filter that users can use to set their eating preferences. Biggins says this is especially helpful in larger markets, such as New York, where the lunch options are endless.
“You’re able to tell Pal, our bot, your preferences, and Pal will be able to make recommendations for you,” Biggins said.
In recent years, several meal delivery companies and pre-made meal services have launched in D.C., including UberEATS and Galley. However, MealPal is the first nondelivery subscription program.
Both Business Insider and The New York Post tested MealPal when it launched in New York earlier this year. The outlets point out that the subscription really only saves its users money if they order lunch Monday through Friday. Skip a day, say for a business meeting or busy day at the office, and the average cost of the daily lunches starts to creep back up.
MealPal is available to new members in D.C. for $99 the first month.
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