As suited workers scurry back to the office after the lunchtime rush, grimacing their way through bland supermarket sandwiches, I've just finished a big box of fresh salad with homemade falafel and hummus—for just £2.50. And it was destined for the dumpster.
Takeaway from your fave cafes and restaurants for next to nothing: that's the idea behind a new app called Too Good To Go. The app lets you buy surplus meals from local eateries at the end of their service for as little as two quid—meals that would otherwise be chucked in the bin. It's kind of like Deliveroo but with food waste, and you have to go pick it up yourself.
Food waste across the UK is practically an epidemic: British restaurants dump an unbelievable 600,000 tonnes of food every year. Too Good To Go, which has already launched in Brighton and Leeds, and is on its way to London, Birmingham, and Manchester, promises to save users a bunch of cash, as well as the planet.
"It's the most pointless problem," says Chris Wilson, one of the app's co-founders. "But food waste is perhaps one of the easiest problems to solve and also something that nobody is really aware of at the moment. On the one side, we've got this huge problem of over-production, consumption, and excess, which leads to us only using two thirds of the food we produce as a global society. And on the other side of the coin you've got a billion hungry people in the world."
Too Good To Go works like this: choose a restaurant from the app and pay in advance for a portion of food, which is all priced between £2 and £4. Then you head down to the eatery at the end of their service (mid-afternoon for lunch places and late evening for restaurants) to collect your meal. It's straightforward and easy to use, plus there's a huge variety of dishes on offer.
I tried out the app in Leeds, starting at Sesame Salad Bar where there's a buffet counter of freshly made salads on offer. Despite it being near the end of service just before 3 PM, there was a fair amount of food left. Owner Ali Fellan hands me a box filled with tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves, and grilled veg: it's delicious. He then swipes the app's in-built receipt to redeem it.
By law, cold food must be thrown out after four hours (for hot food, it's two hours), so Fellan tells me he wanted to be involved with the app to help limit the amount of food they're forced to bin at the end of every day.
"It's better that people eat the food—maybe people who are on a lower budget—so they'll be happy and we'll be happy too," he says.
I move on to Wolf, which serves up Italian street food, where the cheery manager and owner Ashwin Borchate makes me a generously stuffed marinara wrap (spaghetti in a wrap—somehow it works).
"We make everything fresh in the morning," he says. "If you cook too little the customer will be disappointed and if you cook more, you're losing money and obviously a lot of food will be wasted. So the app is really helping to reduce waste. And it's a good deal for the customer, they come down, pay £2.50—you can't go wrong."
At Indian buffet Peachy Keens, it's self-service. I fill a box of chicken korma, jasmine rice, and dahl—all richly spiced and filling. And at Le Chalet, there's surplus cake and pastries on offer.
While there will soon be the option to select vegetarian or vegan meals, Too Good To Go doesn't let you choose from a menu. You just buy a "portion" and then take whatever food is available at the end of the day. This has the obvious benefit of letting the restaurants stay flexible and choose the number of portions they allocate to the app.
But it has upsides for customers too. Now that we're bombarded with choice from apps like Deliveroo and JustEat, the concept is weirdly freeing. You just eat what you're given. The meals are all tasty and high-quality, with lots of first-rate eateries signed up across the country.
"We're battling against the consumer mentality which has been created that everyone is just forced to buy buy buy," says Wilson. "This isn't helped by things like expiry dates, use-by dates and sell-by dates. Slowly but surely we're getting there and hopefully in a few years' time, we'll be able to turn round and look at a different picture, of making more efficient use of our resources and not taking everything so much for granted."