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Make Friends with Subscription, Not Mealpal

Articles Make Friends with Subscription, Not Mealpal

Alarm bells are ringing in the restaurant industry. It’s time to take back control.

20 years. It took me 20 years to accept the alarming early-morning siren that triggers me out of bed. Unfortunately, I have still yet to overcome the panic that accompanies the quick-fire mental arithmetic required to figure out just how many hours of sleep I can exchange for my night’s rest. Maybe another 20 years.

It’s 20-to-one on Tuesday afternoon. An alarming jolt thrusts me out of my chair, as I flashback to the startling start to my day some five hours earlier.

I make my excuses, leave the office and head to…wait…where am I going today…Ok…the iPhone says Lantana, 30 seconds walk from the office. Anticipation washes past disorientation as I descend the stairs. I revisit yesterday’s meal in my mind. Sushi from K10. That was a good one.

As I cross the road, it occurs to me that this now-daily routine is a functional center point in my day. I walk past the queue, share my order with the bartender and she quickly dispenses the meal from the fridge. I’m in and out in all of a minute.

If you live in central London or Manchester, Sydney or Melbourne, or a major city on the east coast of the U.S, you’ve probably heard of MealPal. Legions of office workers descend on local restaurants to nab a meal for less than a fiver, Monday-to-Friday. And that’s a win-win right? Customers can have a proper lunch without breaking the bank and restaurants recover some of the long-since lost lunch trade.

Of course, if you run a restaurant, you’re probably already screaming at the screen: Revenue might be up, but profits are not. MealPal charge a set, scant fee to each customer, essentially barring the restaurant from making any actual money from the sale of the product.

Sure, preparing 30 dishes to the same spec is easier than making 30 separate orders – MealPal only offers one meal per venue – and, as with every aggregator, there are advantages to the increased discoverability that the tool provides. Question is, do these benefits outweigh the time, energy and costs associated with operating the model?

Remember when Deliveroo charged 10% commission? Me neither.

Facebook & Twitter are bearing the brunt of a long overdue ‘techlash.’ Their inability – or unwillingness – to marshal the platforms they created is finally a matter for governmental oversight.

The food & drink industry is no stranger to social media, but it’s Deliveroo and Uber Eats that provoke the ire of many restaurateurs. Owners & operators are now beginning to rail against heightened commission levels, doorways stuffed with delivery riders and inconsistent customer experiences.

MealPal doesn’t deliver. Their catchment area is limited to how far people are willing to walk for their lunch. 5 minutes? 2? It’s tempting to think that this hyper-local base will convert into regular trade; unfortunately, there are a few excellent reasons that they probably won’t:

– They’re loyal to the platform, not you. You don’t have the customer’s data and Mealpal has a very real incentive to keep users rotating to new sites regularly

– They’re loyal to the promotion, not your offer. If I can eat here for £5, why would I suddenly pay double that for the privilege at another time?

– They want to escape their place of work, not linger near it. Really, are any of the people that swing by for a grab & go lunch actually staying around for dinner? Or popping back to their place of work over the weekend?

So, why do restaurants work with MealPal? Because they’re trapped. Trapped by the fear of losing market share to those that do. Trapped by the rising sea of software that promise to solve all ills. But there is a way out.

MealPal offers a subscription service that requires guests to choose their lunch, then pick it up themselves. Now, tell me what part of this proposition cannot be mimicked by an individual restaurant or restaurant group. I’ll wait. And I’d argue that the costs of developing, advertising and managing the service would combine to less than the cost of the ‘commission’ that MealPal currently charges.

Yes, MealPal helps attract new customers. No, I’m not repeating all the reasons this isn’t necessarily helping your business. (Oh, and MealPal are now offering dinner service, so yes, you can finally entice MealPal customers back for dinner – if you’re willing to subsidise their meal. Lucky you).

Your subscription offer can be angled to your most loyal customers, providing them with another reason to return and advocate for you. You can offer your guests the chance to eat in (we both know you’re not full at lunch) or take away. You can accrue more data, helping you to keep in touch with your regular guests and personalise promotions. You can lean on the subscription to trial new dishes and form the base of your weekly outbound content.

Lunch is a tribal affair. Groups flee their offices en masse and are unlikely to split up in search of sustenance (if the group leader likes Pret, you better like Pret too). A subscription service – and the commitment that comes with it – can win you customers in bunches.

Alarm bells are ringing in the restaurant industry. It’s time to take back control.

In the studio: Working with industry innovators Gymbox on their digital platform for at-home-workouts