Heads up: some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click and make a booking or purchase, I’ll make a commission (at no extra cost to you). I partner with companies I personally use and the $$ goes towards creating more awesome, free travel content.
I moved to NYC back in April of this year and compared to the UK, I feel that food is a tad more expensive, unless you’re sticking to those $1 pizza slices. Currently the pound is pretty weak against the US dollar and tipping is expected here, which means that nice restaurant meals can soon become a pretty expensive ordeal.
Groceries also tend to be more pricey in Manhattan than back in London, especially if you’re shopping in places like Wholefoods or local, neighborhood stores. Trader Joes is the most affordable option here but since it’s a 30 minute walk from my apartment, I have to take a backpack and plan to go.
Back in London there was a Tesco/Sainsburys/Waitrose on nearly every street corner and I was always able to find cheap groceries in those discounted bargain bins. I cooked at home all the time, but here, not so much.
Which is why MealPal seemed like an attractive option to save money on food in New York, especially as they enticed me in with some very attractive deals! But is it worth it? Here I’ll give you an in depth review of MealPal NYC:
What is MealPal?
MealPal is a meal app (there’s a desktop version too) that charges a monthly subscription fee for a set number of meals. It allows you to reserve a meal from a nearby restaurant and then all you have to do is go and collect it at a specified time. Each restaurant has only one dish and you can’t make any changes to the dish – what you order is what you get.
Lunch is $6.39 per meal for 12 meals, or $5.99 per meal for 20 meals.
Dinner is $6.99 per meal for 10 meals or $6.49 per meal for 15 meals.
Note though that MealPal offers some really enticing deals to attract customers. Once they had my email they bombarded me with deals, including 50% off the first month, 50% off dinner, $100 visa gift card for signing up etc. Sometimes they have a refer a friend offer too, I’ve seen deals where you both get a $50 visa gift card, or the referrer gets an $30 Amazon gift card and the person who signs up gets $30 off. There are so many deals I can’t keep up!
With the 50% off deal you can be getting meals as low as $3 per meal!
Note: It’s not a food delivery app like Seamless or Uber Eats. It’s also not a meal-kit delivery app, like Sun Basket or Blue Apron. Think of it like ordering a take-out meal, except you go and collect it, instead of having it delivered.
How does MealPal work?
Once you’ve signed up for MealPal in NYC, it will ask you about your dietary preferences or requirements. For example, do you like cilantro? Can you eat dairy? You can also choose whether to see all meals, or whether you just want to see healthy meals.
When logged into the app you can see a map with restaurants all over the city. Simply search the map to find a meal you like, or tap in the search box for a particular type of cuisine, dish or ingredient. Each restaurant has a picture of the meal with a brief description.
Once you know what you want, simply choose the time you want to collect it. You’ll be given an order number and then all you have to do is present that number when you show up at the restaurant. The meal should be ready and waiting for you when you arrive.
The kitchen for lunch opens at 5pm the evening before, then closes at 10.30am on the morning of your pickup. The kitchen for dinner opens the night before at 5pm and closes at 4pm on the day.
Which plan should you sign up for?
I’d start out by signing up for the 12 meal lunch plan or the 10 meal dinner plan as you can always upgrade your plan the following month if you decide you like MealPal. Lunch is obviously ideal if you work in an office and you’re always eating out for lunch. With dinner, I found there were slightly less options and I tend to want to go to dinner with friends in the evenings.
My MealPal Review
Initially I signed up for lunch but then I also signed up for the dinner plan too, so I’ve tried both. Here are some of the pros and cons I discovered:
It’s cheap – Once I signed up they kept offering me deals on dinner so I got one month of dinner for $3 per meal. Even at full price, I’d say it’s the best deal in NYC. A lot of the portion sizes are very reasonable so you’re getting perhaps a $10-$15 meal for around $6. It’s definitely a great way to save money – you can be getting both lunch and dinner for a grand total of $12!
It encourages you to try to new restaurants – The cool thing about MealPal is that it encourages you to be more adventurous and try new places in Manhattan that you might not usually try. It also encourages you to eat dishes you might not usually order.
It’s convenient – Having MealPal means you don’t have to cook or buy groceries, which is awesome if you’re hungover or you work a lot!
It gets you out and about – I work from home, which means I don’t leave the house as often as I probably should. Having MealPal forces me to get out of the house and take a walk to go and get my food.
Save time queuing – Lunch time can be really busy in NYC but with MealPal, you can skip the lines. Just head straight to the counter and pick up your meal, with no payment required.
It’s actually quite flexible – When you book your meal you select a 15 minute time slot. Sometimes I would miss that window by half an hour or even an hour and the restaurant still had no problem giving me my meal.
I had a couple of bad meals – On the whole, my meals have been excellent. One in particular though was pictured to be a salad with prawns and corn etc, but when I showed up it was just lettuce and tomato. I felt like this was false advertising. I also showed up to a restaurant one time and it was closed for some reason, but MealPal credited the meal back to my account.
Sometimes you walk quite far to get what you want – I work from home and so sometimes I just don’t want to break up my day and trek to a place across town to get the meal I want. I want to sit in my PJs and get something from the fridge.
Meals weren’t always ready – On the whole, meals were generally ready and waiting when I got there. But in some places the meal wasn’t ready and so I’d have to wait for them to prepare it.
You have to plan ahead – With the kitchen opening the night before, you really have to plan your meals ahead of time. This can be difficult if you don’t know what area of Manhattan you’ll be in the following day, or what you’ll feel like eating. The kitchen for lunch closes at 10.30am on the day, so if you haven’t ordered by then, you miss out.
If you skip meals, the value disappears – In the beginning I used MealPal all the time but then I got busy with my social life and I kept eating out with friends. By the end of the cycle I had unused dinners that I hadn’t used, which don’t roll over to the next month.
I love MealPal and I think it’s a great deal if you want to eat for cheap in NYC and don’t want the hassle of cooking.
I was a loyal customer for a few months, however, recently I cancelled MealPal just because I got a bit bored of the options near my house and didn’t like breaking up my work day by having to go and fetch it. I live in Hudson Yards where there aren’t that many restaurants around. Plus, I ended up slipping some of the dinner meals in the final month because I was eating out with friends.
Yes, the meals rotate daily but after a while I felt like I had tried everything nearby. I love cooking at home and with winter coming, I decided I would just save time by buying a week’s worth of groceries and cooking at home.
I cancelled my subscription by emailing hello@mealpal and generally the process was quite simple. They cancelled my subscription no questions asked. If you only have one plan you can also put your plan on hold by logging into your account on the web.
Right now MealPal keeps sending me emails offering various deals: 40% off for 2 months, $150 in Amazon gift cards for 3 months, $20 Amazon gift card, $40 of my next month etc in order to get me to come back.
I actually love MealPal on the whole so I might consider returning in the future for the right deal when spring comes around!