Typically I take my lunch to work. It’s healthier than always eating out and helps me save some dough. But microwaved leftovers and soggy PB&J’s can get old.
So I decided to try out Ritual, an order-ahead app that I’ve seen advertised all around San Francisco’s Financial District. It’s also available in most major US cities like New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
I was initially wary of Ritual. If I wanted a food app for the sole purpose of convenience, why wouldn’t I splurge on a food-delivery app like Caviar that would bring food right to me?
Or if I were optimising on price, why wouldn’t I use MealPal, the monthly subscription service where lunches from local restaurants cost only $US6.
The value propositions of Ritual – order ahead, skip the line, earn rewards – seemed to fall in some awkward middle ground of food apps that didn’t seem all too compelling for me.
Nonetheless, I was curious to see why so many techies around me seemed to be loving it.
Here’s what I found:
Ritual’s main selling point is saving time by ordering ahead and skipping the line. With each purchase, you also earn Ritual rewards.
Near Business Insider’s San Francisco office in the Financial District, there are a ton of options. There are at least 20 restaurants on Ritual within one city block.
For the entire week using Ritual, I did not travel more than a block and a half. My average commute time was about two minutes.
You can also browse nearby restaurants in this photo view.
Ritual usually offers a restaurant’s full menu. On Monday at Oasis Grill, I was able to choose from a variety of bowls, wraps, and salads.
Placing an order is super easy. Simply tap on the item you want, select your modifications or additions, and pay via Apple Pay.
Typically, food is ready for pickup within 10-15 minutes.
One downside is Ritual doesn’t send you a text or notification alerting you when your food is ready. You show up around the estimated time it provides and hope for the best.
In the week I tested Ritual, my food was ready for me four out of five times.
At Oasis Grill, I went for the chicken-shawarma wrap.
It was a bit heavy for a Monday but tasty.
Ritual places a major emphasis on its rewards program. There are opportunities throughout the app to earn rewards, like when your pickup is complete. Ritual will give you 100 reward points if you leave a compliment.
The app also places lots of focus on group orders with colleagues. On this day, I was offered 3,000 points for inviting a coworker to start using Ritual.
Unfortunately, no one else on at Business Insider has signed up.
Initially, I didn’t find the rewards program to be that enticing. After a week of using Ritual every day for lunch, I only earned 2,455 points, which works out to be about one free meal every four weeks. Ten thousand points unlocks $US10 to spend anywhere within the app.
This prompted me to start comparing Ritual to MealPal.
MealPal allows you to prepay for 12 lunches each month at a rate of $US6.39 per lunch. That seemed like a way better deal than Ritual, where my average meal was around $US10.
If I was only getting one free meal every month, the rewards program felt like a sham and Ritual itself was far too expensive for me to use on a regular basis, which given its name, is its intent.
On my last day, however, I discovered “Perks,” which makes Ritual a whole lot more affordable.
Perks are special offers on specific items at a given restaurant.
For example, on this day, Hive Coffee Bar was offering $US4 off their Huevos Rancheros Bowl, so that it only cost $US7.
You can also get perks by using some of your rewards points. For 100 points, you could have saved $US1.75 on a gyro from Sausalito Cafe, cutting the price down to $US6.50.
That’s a pretty good deal!
On Friday, I got a deviled-egg sandwich from The Sentinel for only $US6. I used 250 points to save $US2.50.
Beyond rewards and savings, Ritual helps you skip the line.
On Tuesday, ordering ahead saved me loads of time.
I did have to push my way through the crowds, and once I made my way to the front, my sandwich wasn’t waiting for me on the counter as I had expected.
However, upon alerting the employees at La Fromagerie, they quickly assembled my turkey sandwich and I was out the door in less than three minutes.
My Le Californien sandwich from La Fromagerie — with turkey, Habanero-mango hot sauce, avocado, Point Reyes cheese, and arugula — was perhaps my favourite lunch of the week.
Other lines weren’t as long, but it was still nice to have my meal waiting for me upon arrival.
At some places, like MIXT, your order is placed in a refrigerator, so you don’t even have to ask an employee for your food.
I was late for pickup on this day, but surprisingly, my lone salad hadn’t been stolen.
Most places had a Ritual sign near the front counter where you could pick up your order.
On Thursday at Proper Foods, this employee actually knew my order when I walked in.
“Carnitas burrito?” she asked as I approached the counter. Perhaps she recognised me from the picture on my account?
Anyhow, I was impressed.
After a week of using Ritual, I came to enjoy the order-ahead app much more than I had anticipated. Although you still need to walk outside your office and pick up your food, Ritual is incredibly convenient.
It’s partnered with so many restaurants near our office that I never had to walk more than a block and a half. I became convinced that in a busy downtown setting, using Ritual was easier than food-delivery apps, where coordinating dropoffs with drivers can often lead to headaches.
Then there’s the fresh-air aspect. Getting outside for lunch and getting some steps in, when you don’t have to wait in long lines, is quite nice.
Ritual is also more affordable than I had initially thought. Once you rack up a few days of rewards and can take advantage of the “perks,” lunches drop to the $US6-$US7 range, which makes it competitive with services like MealPal.
Also, one advantage to Ritual over MealPal is that you don’t have to select a plan and pay up front each month. You can use Ritual as much or as little as you’d like in a given month and there’s no sunk cost. Personally, even $US6-$US7 is still a bit much for lunch. I did enjoy the Ritual experience and the tasty options, but this week, I’ve already moved back to my PB&J’s.
That said, I still have my rewards points and will gladly use them when my fridge at home is empty.