What’s For Lunch?! (It’s MealPal)

MealPal is a lunch and dinner subscription service where you receive a set number of meals for pickup over a 30-day period. Depending on your plan you can eat for as little as $6 per meal in New York City, which is quite a feat. I’m now on my second cycle and I’m not planning to leave anytime soon!

Annoying -> Fun

MealPal’s strength is turning something annoying (lunch, yes, extremely first-world problem) into something, well, fun! We’ve all been there – ‘time for lunch…but what should i eat today?! had Mexican last night don’t want it today…that place is too far..only have 30 minutes!’ With MealPal you get an email at 5pm every day telling you that the Kitchen is open for lunch the next day. You then pick what you want when you want it and you’re all set! So now you’ve solved lunch ahead of time and you have something to look forward to. The pick-up is the other annoyance in the lunch process, but MealPal even makes this delightful. Your order is ready when you arrive – no lines, no paying for anything – just show them your order number and you’re done!

Building Anticipation with Online x Offline

I really love the ~18 hours to payoff  as it’s  unique among digital experiences. We’re accustomed to instant gratification with social networks and news services, but the payoff only requires us to tap an icon on our home screens. There is an inherent anticipation build-up with Food Delivery services, but if it comes on time I’m simply satisfied and if it’s late I’m extremely hangry and nobody wins. MealPal promises me a trip out of the office at a specific time with little effort to accomplish my task of getting lunch – that is something I can look forward to with every meal from them.

After Lunch Experience 

Another great thing about MealPal is that there’s still more to experience after lunch. The next time I open the App after picking up my Meal I’m immediately prompted for feedback and I love this. It shows me that MealPal cares about my experience and wants to make the product better. The survey is short and to the point and I always complete it.




MealPal has done a great job with the Meal-eater experience, but they have another customer in the Restaurants that supply these meals. I was curious as to what the value proposition (other than exposure and foot-traffic) was to these Restaurants and found this from a great piece by GeekWire:

“MealPal is able to offer lower prices because it gives restaurants large orders for individual dishes in advance. It’s similar to a catering model, which Biggins said is typically the most profitable order for restaurants. MealPal lets many restaurants make more money per meal versus serving individual customers, she said.”

I have no idea what the logistics of working with MealPal are on the supplier end, but this economic arrangement seems very favorable. As good as the Meal-eater experience is, the supply of Restaurants is really the limiting factor to how popular it can become.

Making MealPal even better

While I love the service, there’s always room for improvement. Given how much I’ve used the service and the amount of feedback I’ve provided, MealPal should use those inputs to improve the experience for me. Sarah Tavel of Benchmark Capital calls this Accruing Benefits, which is basically  saying “The more I use this product the better it gets.” For example, I’ve noticed that when I go to select my next Meal the options have looked pretty static from week to week, even with consistent usage. This could be because they haven’t added many new restaurants, but my prior activity can used here to  give me an illusion of endless choice and keep me subscribed.  A couple ideas for this:

  • Suggestions – MealPal knows my taste profile, the places I’ve eaten and the places I haven’t tried yet; this would be a perfect opportunity for a suggestion
  • Popularity – They also know what’s popular among their customers so this would be a great option for a filter
  • 3rd-Party Data – I use other apps and services to find restaurant recommendations and having this layer on top of MealPal would help with discovery. I’d love to see a Foursquare integration (my go-to for reviews/ratings) so I could vet the places I’ve never been to before and maybe see my favorites/history from that service offered as suggestions in MealPal.

To MealPal’s credit I have noticed the addition of filtering by Portion Size, which is something they ask customers to answer in surveys. I find this feature very useful.

Look and Feel

There are also a few things MealPal could do to improve the navigation of the app. I’m not feeling the hamburger menu and it’s position on the not-so top right still gets buried for me – even as an active user. I’d love to see the items in the hamburger as tabs on the bottom of the screen. If i want to see account settings  I have to 1)  tap the hamburger 2)  tap ‘My Account and then 3) tap hamburger  4) tap ‘Browse Meals’ just to get back to where I was. It’s not hard, but could be so much easier with tabs 🙂

And visually, I really dislike the ‘tabs’ used to distinguish between Lunch and Dinner on the home screen. They look like browser tabs and to me that just looks wrong on a Mobile App. A segmented control with the ability to swipe between the two sections would look a lot better.




I made a quick wireframe of how the structure of the app would look with these changes:






Try it for yourself

These minor shortcoming aside, I’m super-excited to see what’s next for MealPal and am very bullish on the service. And if you’re so inclined, sign up for yourself using my invite code: mealpal.com/samgirotra 🙂

Weekend Tech

How do you use tech on the weekend? A good weekend for me is one where time seems to move more slowly.  But given constantly updating feeds and news notifications using any tech on the weekend feels chaotic. I try to follow the philosophy that no tech is the best tech, but it’s not practical to stay away completely.

So I end up changing how I use tech on the weekend compared to how I use it on weekdays – both in terms of which apps and services I use and how often I use them. And I find that my weekends are better because of this.

No Social

  •  Twitter: it represents most of my social media consumption and I find that cutting it out on the weekend lets me focus on the weekend.  Twitter is hilarious, informative and educational, but looking at it makes my brain feel as if it’s in perpetual Fast-Forward. I don’t mind this during the week since I’m already in overdrive for work, but looking out my window on a Sunday puts me in a better mood than looking at Twitter does.
  • Instagram: it’s my number two social media app and it doesn’t put my mind in overdrive quite like Twitter does. But, for me at least, it can swallow up a lot of time before I even realize. Scrolling through photos of my friends, favorite artists and athletes is a lot of fun, but before I know it 45 minutes have passed and I’m not even sure whose photos I’m viewing anymore. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Getting lost in something and not feeling the need to be constantly productive is very liberating. But I let it get excessive to the point where it’s not even fun so I just cut it out on the weekends.

Non-Social Substitutes

If I can’t avoid tech, there are some apps that are better for my weekend mindset and help me maintain peak-chill.

  • Apple News: I wrote about it at length – Apple News is a go-to when I’m hankering for news and gratification that an infinite scroll brings…without all the noise.
  • Pocket: I also wrote about Pocket and it’s perfect for the weekend when I have some time to catch up on long reads I’ve saved. I’m in rapid information-processing mode on weekdays, but on the weekend I have time to dig into things and Pocket lets me do this with articles.

Off the Grid

Sometimes you just have to put your phone in the other room and go it alone. I find old-fashioned newspapers perfect for the weekends where I have free time and want some light entertainment.

  • NYT/WSJ Weekend Edition: At $5-$6 per paper, this may seem like a lot to spend, but have you seen how big these editions are? There’s gotta be at least 3 hours of entertainment in these papers and I never regret my purchase.

So how do you use tech on the weekend? Does your app usage change from the weekday to the weekend?

Apple News Saves the Day?

I’ve been using Apple News for the past few weeks and have come to the conclusion that it can combat fake-news, make you smarter and buoy the News Publishing Industry all at once!  Okay, thats’s definitely a hot take, but let me dig in 🙂

Breadth and Trust

It’s an aggregator so one can find many news sources all in one spot – I have tremendous respect for outlets like WSJ, NYT, WaPo (and have their respective apps installed), but an aggregator is  more time efficient. I see  headlines from the likes of Politico, Fox News and The New Yorker, so I feel I’m getting a representative collection of viewpoints out there(no matter how much you agree or disagree ;-). There seems to be some sort of ‘approval’ process to become a Publisher and I’m going to assume you won’t see any articles from Heart of Texas and Being Patriotic, two Facebook groups that posted heavily about the 2016 election and were ultimately found to be created by our Russian friends.

Media, but not Social

The fact that there’s no social component to Apple News gives me most hope about fighting fake news and false information. So even if some questionable ‘publications’ do make it onto the App, there’s no chance that your crazy Uncle would amplify the articles by sharing. I probably get most of my news from Twitter and I love the timeliness that comes with so many individuals contributing to the platform, but it gets exhausting and overwhelming(Kanye, anyone?). Apple News updates only when there are new articles — there are no hot takes or ugly Twitter fights; it’s actually quite refreshing!

Continue reading “Apple News Saves the Day?”

Estimated Times in Pocket

Pocket – the app that let’s you save articles to read later – just introduced an ‘Estimated Time’ to read feature. It’s subtle, but makes my experience with the service much better. I save a TON of articles to read later, but the number I actually go back to read is shameful. It’s hard to prioritize what to read when you can’t even count the number of articles in your archive – this is where Estimated Time helps. It adds context to my archive and makes it feel less overwhelming. Before, I couldn’t prioritize what to read because it all looked interesting – I was the one who saved them after all! But now I feel the product respects my own context. So if I’m on the bus commuting, I’ll go through some of the shorter articles. And if I’m spending a lazy Sunday on the couch, I’ll read New Yorker articles 🙂

I’d love to see the service add even more data-rich features like this. Here’s a few things that would be great to see:

  •  Total Number of Articles Saved – this might scare me, but would provide additional motivation to actually read; I try to be mindful of the time I spend on my phone, but I classify reading on Pocket as a productive thing
  •  Total Number of Articles Read -this would provide a sense of accomplishment; I don’t like over-gamification of apps/services, so a simple articles read per week or month would be great
  • Progress made on each article – it remembers my scroll position, so a progress indicator seems doable; like estimated time, this would help me scan my list and quickly make decisions to read
Estimated Time in Pocket

The OS as the App Store

We’ve been reading a lot in recent years about how people don’t download new Apps and how App discovery and the App Store are broken. The latter may not directly cause the former, but there’s definitely some impact. Apple wants you to use Apps; Apps make their expensive hardware that much more valuable to you. They even acknowledged this with that cute little video to kick off WWDC 2017. And it followed that Apple announced a whole new App Store for iOS 11. Apple’s Developer Site boasts: “Now the App Store has been redesigned from the ground up to provide a beautiful place to showcase amazing apps and to help customers discover new favorites.”

While the App Store was due for a change, I think the future of App discovery is the OS and not another App. I can’t remember the last time I downloaded an App just from browsing the App or Play Store. Yes, one has to go to the Store to download an App (for now), but you probably came to the store because you heard about this App from someone/somewhere else or there’s a specific action you’re trying to complete. Now this second part is where I think the opportunity exists.

App Discovery should be contextual. In a recent post on Notifications, Scott Belsky wrote about a ‘Notification Layer API‘ that “would take all kinds of data into account, like your location, your schedule, your propensity to engage with certain apps at certain times…” to make the Notifications you receive smarter. I propose this, but for App Discovery.

Continue reading “The OS as the App Store”