An app aimed at preventing food waste launches in Atlanta with bargain “surprise bags” from local restaurants

The service lets restaurants sell food that would otherwise go to waste at discounted prices. Here's what we learned when we tried it.

An app aimed at preventing food waste launches in Atlanta with bargain "surprise bags" from local restaurants
This bag of a dozen cookies and a brownie from Tiff’s Treats retails for $25.50, but I got it for $6.35.

Photograph by Lauren Finney Harden

Too Good to Go, a seven-year-old app designed to prevent food waste, recently launched service in Atlanta. The app connects restaurants that have a surplus supply with hungry customers in an effort to reduce the amount of food thrown in the trash.

The company says it has saved more than 200 million meals globally so far, and it aims to add to that total count with its partners in metro Atlanta.

“We have enough food on the planet to feed everyone, but we have an allocation problem,” says Chris MacAulay, the U.S. country director for Too Good to Go. He says that when food is trashed, it goes to landfills, and that waste ends up being a large contributor to carbon emissions.

Too Good To Go estimates that approximately 125,000 tons of food waste are generated in Atlanta each year. So far, almost 100 restaurants in the metro area have signed up to combat this by selling “surprise bags,” or bags containing surplus food. The bags are priced at a third of the original value of the food, and restaurants, such as Tiff’s Treats, Buttermilk Kitchen, and Refuge Coffee Co., determine what is available and when. “It’s a way to maximize their excess. They’re making money on something they were going to throw in the trash, and we’re also bringing in incremental foot traffic,” MacAulay says.

The app is free to use and participating locations are shown based on your location. You can browse through the options nearby, with ratings, distance to you, and pick up times clearly outlined. If you see a match for something you want, you reserve the bag and pick it up at the scheduled time.

Here are a few observations I had while testing the app:

  1. Most offerings are bakeries—for now. Many restaurants are in the process of being added, but near me, the most offerings and best times were for bakeries like Tiff’s Treats, Great American Cookies, and Munster Cravings. The process for picking up at Tiff’s Treats was seamless. I reserved the bag five minutes before I showed up. Once I arrived and let the app know I was there, I gave an employee the pickup number and she handed me the bag. The entire interaction took less than 30 seconds. I was a little shocked to see I had scored a dozen cookies and a brownie for $6.35, which retails for $25.50. The baked goods were still soft and tasted fresh.
  2. You need to read the details. The app is easy to use and the expectations are set clearly. However, I got so caught up trying to get a bag at all that I glossed over some important details. More substantial meals were hard to come by as they go fast and there are fewer restaurants offering meals overall. (You can access them through a “Meals” tab in the app.) I was excited about Slim & Husky’s pizza popping up, but when I looked closely, it said that the surprise bag was most likely cinnamon rolls, not pizza.
  3. Pick-up times are off-peak hours. Some pick-up times were automatic disqualifiers based on my schedule, such as the 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. pick-up at the Hungry Peach—ADAC’s cafe and a personal favorite lunch spot. If you have flexibility, though, you can score a great deal. Tiff’s Treats had the most wide-ranging pick-up window of 9 a.m to 6 p.m.
  4. It’s not always day-old food. Restaurants drive the supply and work on their timelines. For example, MacAulay says that sushi restaurants will put their excess up in surprise bags at the end of the day to preserve freshness, whereas baked goods or sandwiches might be able to go the next day.
  5. This unpredictability can also make it hard to snag bags. I tried for days to grab a surprise bag from Cubanos ATL, one of the most popular restaurants on the app according to MacAulay. I finally got a bag reserved at 7 a.m. for a 6 p.m. pick-up that same day, but the restaurant canceled the order around 11 a.m. that morning due to low excess supply. I tried again the next day and it was also canceled due to low supply.

If you’re flexible on timing or not concerned about consuming food that could be considered “old” by some, then To Good to Go might be a worthy way to try food from Atlanta restaurants at a fraction of the price.