GiftAMeal Makes Core Changes to App to Meet Needs of Emerging Restaurant Crisis

How this socially-conscious St. Louis startup has responded to the coronavirus crisis is not just belly-warming; it's heartwarming too.
  • The nationwide official public health response to coronavirus has forced local restaurants to close or switch to takeout/delivery options only.
  • St. Louis has been impacted just like any other city, leading to an immediate loss of income now, threatening cash flow and forecasting job losses in future.
  • Following the forced closure of “dining rooms” (attached to restaurants), GiftAMeal has switched its app user reward system to handle takeout/delivery option to maintain meal donations to at-risk communities.
  • Furthermore, GiftAMeal has expanded its capabilities to support restaurant visibility by turning the photo-sharing feed on the app into a newsfeed too, where it will update the community on how local restaurants are responding to the crisis.
  • GiftAMeal is an app that helps restaurants attract new patrons by asking users to share photos of their meals to a city-wide community of food lovers, and then rewarding that action with a donation made to a local food bank to help serve other citizens who are vulnerable to food insecurity issues.

GiftAMeal is taking action in the face of the coronavirus crisis in St. Louis that not only has hit the restaurant community especially hard, but also to quote the New York Times, potentially foreshadows “disaster” on the most at-risk segments of our society.

Founder & CEO of GiftAMeal, Andrew Glantz, explained why in a press release, “A majority of the community members supported through GiftAMeal are children and the elderly. Schools are closing, and children relying on meals normally provided are facing a new challenge as social services scramble to readjust. At the same time, older community members, the most at-risk population for COVID-19, need our support now more than ever.”

In the past two weeks, the publication has spotlighted the potential impact on those already subject to “food insecurity,” such as those facing poverty and homelessness, raising questions such as how does food get delivered in times of quarantine, who may need to skip their own meals to feed their children and how are homeless shelters going to prepare for the disastrous situation that has affected care homes. In lockstep with such coverage, the St. Louis based mobile app company has made some significant changes to GiftAMeal’s business strategy to help provide relief to struggling restaurants and the most at-risk segments of in St. Louis.

Most notably, the startup has changed its photo-to-donation meal verification system to work at home.

With the mandated closing earlier this week of dining rooms across the bi-state area, the team made a change to their program that was previously only available to customers dining in. Now users can use photos of their food deliveries and takeaways to donate meals and support the restaurant marketing function of the app.

“We’ve just launched an update to the GiftAMeal app that will temporarily allow users to take pictures off-site to donate meals for takeout, delivery, and gift card purchases,” said Glantz. “We will do this by lifting the location requirement of needing to be at a partner restaurant when you take the photo and we will move to manual verification.”

In case you were wondering (and especially for cynics), GiftAMeal doesn’t “make any money” every time you take a photo of a meal. Instead, all partner restaurants pay a fee to be listed in the app and a virtuous circle of user-generated food photos and GiftAMeal’s verification system helps keep restaurants ‘front of mind’ among the app’s community of local foodies.

Nonetheless, in addition to the changes to verification, GiftAmeal is offering relief for the cost of the marketing program (normally between $49-$149/month) for struggling restaurants. Glantz extended an offer to self-fund the program for restaurants unable to contribute in the months of March and April so that food donations and restaurant customers could continue to flow at a time when they are most needed.

“We are a small startup with limited means, but this is a time where we can shine the brightest. It’s important to me that our donations continue to flow to hunger relief organizations, and I know that the visibility of restaurants on our platform can have a big impact on cash-flow for these local businesses,” said Glantz, explaining the decision. “I’ve always been struck by the generosity and love of community that our partner restaurant operators have shown, and even if it’s a drop in the bucket, I am going to help however I can.”

GiftAMeal user shows off new take-out option.

“PLEASE support our local partner restaurants that are struggling during this difficult time,” Glantz stressed to EQ. “Our team has been tirelessly working to make this shift possible to takeout/delivery/gift cards. We basically pivoted our core concept in just a couple of days, and now are learning on the fly how to make it most successful for our partner restaurants, users, and community.”

“Just as the community is struggling, so are many restaurants in the face of public health guidelines designed to contain the spread of this virus. Employees depend on their jobs to pay bills and make rent, and our partners are doing their best to mitigate the effects of this crisis on their staff. But they cannot do it without the support of the public.”

With hundreds of restaurants forced to quickly find new avenues to pay their staff, GiftAMeal is keeping the app’s 35,000+ loyal restaurant customers aware of all avenues to support their favorite restaurants. What’s especially smart, and much needed, is that Glantz is informally adapting the GiftAMeal app into a newsfeed of how local restaurants are responding to the crisis.

“We will keep you up-to-date on the latest with our partner restaurants on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Many are expanding take-out and delivery programs to keep serving the community and are implementing extremely thorough health precautions to keep us all safe.”

“Carry out only!” A GiftAMeal user shows off new take-out option for donating a meal – whilst also demonstrating the public health changes made by the partner restaurant.

GiftAMeal users are responding well to the changes. What is especially inspiring is how they are using food photos to socialize the changes, which both sides of the local economy are adopting to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

From posting photos of coffees from cafes that have switched to take out only, to highlighting how their meal looks in the new take-out packaging they just got, GiftAMeal users are helping to educate the market on how to keep the dollar in St. Louis and support local businesses and jobs during this precarious time.

“It has been amazing to see the pictures come in already though,” Glantz told EQ, “My favorite was of take-out with a bottle of hand sanitizer next to it!”

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Jonathan Allen is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of EQ. He is also the President and Co-founder of Longneck & Thunderfoot (L&T), a brand publishing company incubated at the Columbia University Startup Lab in NYC. After winning an Arch Grant, he moved to St Louis in the summer of 2016.

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