At a time when we’ve been hit in the pocket by high food prices, lurks a slew of bargain hunters who belong to an underground network that pays a fraction of what we suckers pay for premium cuts of beef and some of the best pastries in town.
At least, that’s how I felt when I stumbled upon the app, Too Good To Go, which has a cult devotion to Seattle penny clips who are onto this little secret: you can hoard all orders from discarded food delivery, bruised fruit and day-old croissants that you can eat for pennies on the dollar.
The rush for those leftover pizza slices and expiring deli foods starts when store managers and chefs post on this app that they have leftover food nearing its expiration date that they need to give up. Vendors set a time when bargain hunters can pick up these mysterious bags which usually cost between $3.99 and $6.99.
In the past few weeks, savvy shoppers have snagged a $6.99 Metropolitan Market pastry bag with a loaf of bread and five baked goods, including its famous chocolate chip cookie. In Ballard, the $4.99 bags from famed bakery Cafe Besalu included a handful of pastries such as a kouign-amann, croissant and quiche.
If you’re not worried about foods nearing their expiration date or misshapen vegetables, these groceries are a great deal.
Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Too Good To Go was launched in major dining cities such as Paris and New York, and over the past two years has expanded to a dozen US metropolitan areas, including – in May 2021 – Seattle. To sell on this app, excess food must be reduced to at least one-third of the retail cost, according to the Too Good To Go policy.
Since January 2022, more than one million consumers in the United States have downloaded the app, the company reports. A company spokesperson said many turn to the app for discounted meals because they don’t want to pay full price or can’t afford the high cost of food these days. these days.
According to the consumer price index for July, grocery prices are up 13% from a year ago.
In Washington state, about 25,000 residents have used the service, the company reports. It’s become not just an app for getting discounted food, but a lifestyle, with consumers planning their meals around restaurant leftovers or grocery ingredients they buy on the app.
Ronald Woan, from Redmond, who orders extra food mainly because he doesn’t want it wasted, gets muffins and other baked goods from the night before from his neighborhood Peet’s Coffee or Caffe Ladro for breakfast. For dinner, he picks up groceries or a bag of prepared meals for $5.99 to $6.99. Sometimes his loot is enough for a week’s worth of meals.
“It’s much more economical than going out every day,” he says. “The fun aspect of [a mystery grocery bag] is there an Iron Chef aspect to this – how am I going to make a meal out of it?
About 250 restaurants and stores in Western Washington sell their perishables on Too Good To Go.
In January, Carol Kwok from Sammamish started a Too Good To Go Facebook group for her circle of friends to share photos and notes on restaurants with the best discount deals. Within months, she was floored to find hundreds of strangers signing up to her Facebook group and reviewing their mystery bags as if they were Yelp. Others offered recipes or advice on what to do with day-old baked goods when they are bigger than expected. (Make bread pudding with the croissants, one member posted.)
For Kwok, the app is a cost-effective way to sample a variety of menu items to help her decide if she wants to frequent this restaurant in the future.
Over the past four weeks, I’ve ordered a dozen meals from restaurants and grocery stores on this app to see what the fuss is about. What I found:
Your premium varies. A $6.99 mystery bag from the Safeway deli on East Madison Street got me a single serving and a family serving of chicken Alfredo, a platter of teriyaki chicken with chow mein noodles, four chicken rolls, a mix of stir-fry vegetables and a dinner-size Cobb salad.
I didn’t realize I had hit the jackpot until other consumers reported that their Safeway bags only had half of what I had scored.
There is a lot of competition for leftover food at popular spots such as Cafe Besalu in Ballard, Meesha in Fremont and Cookie’s Country Chicken in Ballard. The app’s savvy users track posting times and past closing times to find out when these restaurants are selling online.
For example, Cookie’s Country Chicken packs leftover mac and cheese and other sides with drumsticks and fried chicken nuggets around 8 p.m. on weekdays and 8:30 p.m. on weekends. Savvy shoppers have their fingers ready during this time slot to pounce on those $3.99 take-out boxes that sell out after 8 p.m. (Cookie’s Country Chicken also plans to start packing leftovers after its lunch rush.)
Some good deals where you don’t have to be quick on the draw:
metropolitan market offers a $6.99 bakery bag with donuts, loaves of bread, cookies and, if you’re lucky, a slice of its excellent Hummingbird Cake. Its mysterious deli bag usually includes a handful of soups, salads, and pasta platters.
The talented baker Christina Wood of Temple pastries in the central district prepares stellar rye pastries that you won’t find anywhere else in the city, as well as excellent croissants. She sells leftovers on this app around 2 p.m.
I was also very lucky to find high quality produce, meats and coffee beans from The Naked Grocer on Capitol Hill, central cooperative on East Madison Street and The bean box in SoDo, respectively.