App lets you buy leftover restaurant food. Is it worth it?

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(NEXSTAR) – It started with a targeted ad on Instagram – as many of my online shopping adventures do these days. There was a new app expanding service to the area where I live in Los Angeles that would allow me to swoop up leftover food from restaurants, grocery stores, cafes and bakeries for a fraction of the price.

The business has been operating in European cities for a while and has recently started expanding to cities around the U.S. As of publication, Too Good To Go was operating in Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, the D.C. area, New York, parts of New Jersey, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Portland, Philadelphia, Providence, Seattle, and a few more parts of the country. The company says on its website it plans to expand more in the coming months, but doesn’t specify where or when. (Too Good To Go didn’t respond to Nexstar’s requests for comment.)

The app is pretty to easy to use. When you open it up, there are offerings from restaurants in your area with different pickup times and prices. Most of the options that I’ve seen in my area are so-called “surprise bags,” a mix of items that will remain a mystery to you until you pick up.

A look at the Too Good To Go interface, which sells leftover food from businesses at a discount price. (Screenshot / Alix Martichoux)

Still, the prices were appealing – especially in pricey Los Angeles. Plus, I’m not a picky eater.

Too Good To Go sounded too good to be true. So I decided to try it out.

Attempt No. 1: Epic fail

My first attempt at trying Too Good To Go – to put it simply – did not work at all. I spotted a deal from a smoothie spot less than a mile from my apartment for $3.99. I paid through the app and was given a pick-up window in the early evening, right before the store closes.

This was one of those “surprise bags” so I had no idea what it would be, but I was intrigued to see what kind of goodies a high-end smoothie store had left over at the end of the day. The answer, it turns out, was nothing.

The employee at the store seemed genuinely confused when I showed up for my pick-up. “Nah, I’m good,” he told me, as if I were selling him something, not vice versa. I explained how the app (supposedly) worked and he still didn’t quite get it. I left empty handed.

If there’s a silver lining to this failure, it’s that Too Good To Go seems very prepared to deal with this situation. It took one tap of a button in the app to get me a refund.

Attempt No. 2: Things are looking up

Undeterred in my quest for cheap food, I decided to give Too Good To Go another shot. I wasn’t ready to risk heartbreak at the smoothie shop (which wronged me once when I first moved to LA and accidentally purchased a $16 smoothie, but that’s another story). I decided to try my luck at a pizza joint and scheduled a pickup window from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

When I arrived at the empty pizza restaurant, I was once again met with a bit of confusion. But there was a happy ending this time. A little bit of explaining and they started packing up my order: four massive slices of pizza – the kind where one slice counts as a meal – each with different toppings like mushrooms, garlic and ricotta.

I ended up with four meals for $4.99. Not too shabby.

Attempt No. 3: Getting the hang of it

By my third try, I walked into the French bakery with confidence and my redemption code ready. The employee who greeted me also knew what she was doing this time. She jotted down my code from the app, ran to the back of the store for a quick minute, then came back and loaded me up with a bag of pastries.

I got all this for $4.99 – not bad in a city where you could easily pay that much for a single croissant.

An assortment of pastries from Le Pain Quotidien purchased on the Too Good To Go app for $4.99. (Photo: Alix Martichoux / Nexstar)

This was the bag of food that won me over. If this would otherwise be tossed out at the end of the day – like Too Good To Go advertises – it seems like a win-win: cheap food for me, less waste for the business.

But in my experience so far, being flexible is key. You have to be OK with fixed pick-up times, a mystery assortment of goods, and the chance that you might end up with nothing every once in a while. I wouldn’t rely on it for my weekly meal planning, but I’m not the kind of person who turns down a discount. Or a pastry.

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