2016 saw change in the dining habits of those living and working in our capital. The launch of UberEATS and Amazon restaurants, alongside continued expansion of Deliveroo and EatFirst, means hungry consumers increasingly have access to whatever they want, whenever they want it. We continue to watch with interest this year, as a new dynamic enters the market, in the form of ‘MealPal’.

MealPal is a US-based monthly lunch subscription service. Having successfully gained traction in cities across the Atlantic, it launched in London last month, seeking to revolutionise London’s workday lunches. While subscription services ‘per se’ are not new to UK F&B scene (Gousto and HelloFresh are well established in providing boxed dinner packs), the lunchtime market has remained relatively undisrupted.

How does it work?
Customers subscribe to a fixed number of lunches, from local participating eateries and pay an upfront fixed price that equates to an average meal cost of £4.39. Lunching for less than £5 a day may be an attractive prospect for hungry workers, as well as the prospect of skipping the queues when picking up their order, but the saving does come with a few catches: subscribers must make their lunchtime selection by 9.30am and commit to a specific pick-up slot; each restaurant has a nominated MealPal dish each day, so choice is somewhat limited and the leg-work for collection is down to the customer. In short, MealPal makes it quicker and cheaper in store, but with some trade-off in choice and flexibility. So, will it catch on?

Success of this model depends upon securing engagement from a good range of local eateries, at the same time as building consumer demand, and we ask, what are the benefits are of this type of model to operators? Pragma has identified three:

Forecasting
Advance visibility of demand is something many grab-and-go restaurants dream of. As customers choose their pick-up time, and MealPal regulates the times that are available, restaurants can manage their staffing and customer traffic, as well as food production, more effectively.

Stock management
Having the power to know what your customers are going to eat each day provides operators with more control over their stock. It enables restaurants to schedule deliveries more efficiently and utilise old stock. This can lead to reduced wastage and increased profitability.

Marketing
Restaurants can utilise platforms like MealPal as a flexible form of marketing. It allows them to show a captive audience what they are and what food they are offering, and is ideally suited to restaurants that do not naturally draw a big lunchtime crowd. It also provides the ability for restaurants to concept-test new ideas.

It is too early to be sure if this model will change consumer behaviour and become ingrained in our lunchtime repertoires, or whether restaurants will prefer to invest in attracting their own customers and driving higher price points.

Time will tell if this recent import is going to be the latest ‘next big thing’.

Ailis Topley