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Business development / Startups

MealPal just expanded to Philly in hopes of making your lunch time easier

How do its local restaurant partners feel? Cautiously optimistic, but one owner said it's a better deal than UberEATS.

MealPal lets you place advance orders for pickup at 50 Center City restaurants. (Courtesy photo)

If you tell MealPal’s in-app bot that you like kale, it will never, ever forget.
The NYC-based lunch subscription service launched in Philly on Tuesday (following its D.C. expansion back in September) and it’s packing an artificial intelligence feature by way of Pal, a built-in bot that learns users’ food preferences over time to suggest the ideal choices.
“We built this feature because, as our list of restaurants grew, we realized that we had to make it easy for people to find the meals that are best for them,” said spokesperson Elizabeth Adams in an email. All told, the platform has 1,000 restaurants signed up across six cities, including 50 in Philly, like Dos Tacos, Meltkraft and Capogiro.
The premise is pretty simple: MealPal works with restaurants to make one lunch option from each restaurant available for its users everyday. There are two plans: pay either $6 per lunch under the “Lunch Everyday” plan — which offers a total of 20 meals — or $6.39 under the “Lunch a Bunch” plan, that comes with 12 meals.
But what kind of shake are business owners getting when they join?
MealPal declined to comment on specifics of the restaurant. “However, I can tell you that we make labor more efficient for restaurants because there is no customization and it is a batch meal,” said Adams. “Restaurants should be more profitable on meals sold via MealPal than they are on individual customers ordering from their menu.”
Adams said another upside to the deal was helping businesses be more prepareed for the lunch rush. “We help restaurants make more money during their busiest hour of the day by streamlining all of their orders from MealPal,” Adams explained.
We called up some restaurant owners to get their take.
Andy Wash, co-owner of Hershel’s East Side Deli at Reading Terminal Market, said the service negotiates a slightly discounted rate on specific dishes. The total meals served throughout the week are then tallied and paid out every Friday. Though Wash declined to comment on the specific discount rate, he said it’s much better than UberEATS’ 30 percent bite.
Tuesday’s MealPal meal at Hershel’s was a half brisket sandwich. Will the service drive more customers to the stores? Wash remains cautiously optimistic. “It’s a little early to tell, so we’ll have to see,” he said. A representative for Read Food Eatery who requested not to be named also said the service’s impact will have to be seen over the coming weeks.
But beware: this is not a delivery service. MealPal is pickup only, but it enables users to skip the line and get their orders before the lines start to form.
Two full-time staffers will be working out of the city’s various WeWork locations, but they’ll mostly be stomping around looking for the next restaurant to sign up.

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