New App Too Good To Go Offers Great Deals & Prevents Food Waste
If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, then you’ve probably seen food that was once perfectly good end up in the trash. It’s tough as an owner to always accurately predict how much is going to sell in a day, and it’s common to end up with leftover breads, pastries, pizzas and more that cannot be resold. (Some places give away leftovers to employees, but trust me: you get sick of eating food from your work after a while.) These are items that consumers expect to buy exactly what they want fresh daily — at least, some consumers do. Those who are less picky can get great deals on food left over at the end of the day via the Too Good To Go app.
The app just officially became available in Houston, after quietly working with a limited number of restaurant partners to test the market. It’s now a fully fledged release and is partnering with several businesses.
Here’s how Too Good To Go works: download the app to your phone, and when you open it, you’ll see a list of businesses in your area (you can select a radius from 1 to 20 miles) with excess food to offload. These are called “Surprise Bags”, and there is only a general description of what you will receive, such as “delicious baked goods.” You get what you get — Too Good To Go is not for picky people — but the upside is that your cost is only going to be about a third of the retail price — usually between $5 and $6, depending on the available items.
For example: you might rescue a Surprise Bag from a doughnut shop for $5.33, and find that it’s filled with a dozen doughnuts for which you would have normally paid $16. The place will list how many Surprise Bags it has, and these are available only on a first-come, first-served basis. Once these are bought on the app, they’re gone. If there are multiple bags available at the same time, you can order more than one.
Some places don’t have much left at the end of the day, and while that can be disappointing, in my experience, it can lead to unexpected bonuses if the shop employees try to make it up to you. For example, a coffee shop that didn’t have much left at the end of the day gave me a beverage of my choice.
Sometimes, you’ll hit the jackpot and receive an excess of riches — plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors. From Tiff’s Treats at 1051 Heights, I received a full dozen of tasty, soft-baked cookies. It was a wide variety and included personal favorites such as chocolate chip and white chocolate macadamia. I ate those, and offloaded the rest to two strapping young men (my youngest son and his roommate) who can get away with occasional indulgences far better than I can. At a bagel place, I ended up with so many that I was able to give both of my kids and a neighbor part of my bounty.
If you’re sensing a theme — yes, much of what needs rescuing is carbs. However, occasionally produce and proteins pop up, too. Just in glancing at the app today, Birria Los Primos at 1010 Prairie is offering a Surprise Bag of Mexican food that “can be whole dishes or a mix of different side dishes”. Yesterday, Uncle Sharkii Poke Bar offloaded one that “may contain tea (with or without boba), rice, fish, or surplus ingredients”. Other participants include Snap Kitchen, Henderson & Kane General Store, Cochinita & Co. and Honest Eats.
Why not encourage these places to donate these prepared foods to a non-profit? The short answer is that while the quantity that restaurants have to offload at the end of the day is great for an individual or family, it’s not likely enough for an organization — and these items also need to move quickly.
“We encourage our partners when possible to donate first and many do; many also have their own donation streams already established, which we support. In cases wherein the food amount is not large enough to donate (think: a couple of croissants left at the end of the day,) or the donation can only happen on a weekly, rather than daily, basis, we provide a solution,” said Sarah Soteroff, senior public relations manager of Too Good To Go.
Barbara Bronstein, founder of prepared food rescue non-profit Second Servings of Houston, sees the Too Good To Go app not as competition, but as one more tool in the arsenal against food waste. “We love this app!” she wrote in an email. “It helps retailers recover their costs, gives consumers a price break and reduces food waste. It is consistent with our goal of reducing food waste, and enables smaller quantities that are usually available late in the day or evening, to be sold, rather than wasted.”
There’s a side benefit, too: going out on Too Good To Go rescue missions can introduce you to places you’ve never been before, or give you a good reason to revisit places you’ve not been to in a while. I was delighted to have an excuse to stop by Prelude Coffee & Tea in downtown Houston, which closed for a long period during the pandemic. The bonus of two lemon cake slices, a blueberry muffin and a chocolate crispy rice bar.
Having used the app for a few months now (I’m frequently in San Diego, where Too Good To Go debuted a few months ahead of Houston) to rescue 21 Surprise Bags (saving $341 and 117 pounds of Co2, according to the app), I’m well-equipped to offer tips for success.
- Check the app frequently to grab deals. As far as I can tell, the only notification you can opt into is a daily reminder to check and see what’s available. Deals can be grabbed and disappear fast.
- Pick up only from places near you or on your route. You do not know what or how much you will receive, so it makes no sense to use excess gasoline to rescue what may end up being $10 worth of food.
- No matter what you receive, be a good customer. This is not the time to blow attitude if you don’t get what or as much as you want. The restaurateur is doing a great thing by participating in the program, and by just showing up to receive whatever they have to offer, you are part of that effort, too. If the place has something you want or need, and you can afford to do so, consider buying something extra during your visit, too.
- Don’t be late for your pickup. If your pickup is scheduled at a coffee shop between 3 and 3:30 p.m., and you show up at 4 p.m., you may find that it’s closed for the day.
- Don’t be a no-show. You can cancel your pickup up to two hours before the scheduled start time of your pickup window. Although inevitable things come up sometimes, do your best to make sure you can be there. Otherwise, the food might still end up in the trash, and that’s what Too Good To Go is trying to prevent.
- Know when to pause. The deals can be so great that running around and picking up Surprise Bags can become a little addictive. However, if you get more than you can consume or share, the food you picked up to rescue is still going to end up in the trash — and that completely defeats the purpose.
According to the University of California, Davis and other sources, one-third of the world’s food is wasted — an estimated 30 million tons annually in the United States. It’s not just the loss of the food that’s an issue, either: it’s the waste of the time, labor, energy, fuel and other resources needed to produce and transport the food. While the Too Good To Go app may only put a small dent in improving the crisis, it’s an easy way for many people to do their small part — perhaps while enjoying some discounted doughnuts or pizza.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.