Most new food apps bring the restaurant to you. Allset, by contrast, makes it easier to sit down at a restaurant and have lunch, even if you don’t have time for leisurely, hour-long work breaks.
It works much like Seamless or any other delivery app: You choose dishes from a menu, add in special instructions, order drinks, and pay (Allset adds a suggested 18 percent gratuity for you; you can change the amount, but you cannot decline to tip).
The difference between Allset and Seamless (or even OpenTable) is that you also choose a specific time to show up at the restaurant. When you arrive, a table will be ready for you and the food you pre-selected will arrive only a few minutes after you sit down. If you’re eating with friends, you can order separately on your own apps—you just have to invite your dining partner to “share your table” through the app.
Mental Floss tried out the app twice (with the help of two $10 promo codes from Allset), and found that it functioned almost exactly as designed, with a few hiccups. At a restaurant called Lasagna Ristorante, where the waiters had a “reserved” sign and our drinks waiting for us on our table when we arrived, the servers somehow switched one of our dishes for something else on the menu. But even with a minor wait for the correct entree, we still managed to make it through a two-course meal in just under 35 minutes. At another place we tried, Sarge’s Deli, we were in and out even faster. There were already pickles, cole slaw, and glasses of water on the table when we walked through the door, and our sandwiches came out within a minute. But again, one of the dishes didn’t look like what we had ordered—at least not exactly. Instead of a regular Reuben, we ended up with a hot, open-faced version that wasn’t on the app in the menu.
This highlights perhaps the one issue in the app: The menus aren’t always intuitive. They’re divided into tabbed sections like “good for lunch,” “small plates,” “desserts,” and “drinks,” but you can’t scroll through the whole menu without clicking over to separate tabs. It’s easy to get to the end of the “good for lunch” entrees and not realize there are other options. And while each restaurant obviously sets its own menu, the two restaurants we tried both had menus that were oddly structured. The menu for Sarge’s Deli listed all its sandwiches under the header “combination sandwich,” but then every meat option except one included a $5 charge over the list price. At Lasagna Ristorante, we couldn’t figure out if there was a way to add chicken to a pasta dish.
And there’s a certain awkwardness that comes with using any new restaurant app. Since you’ve already paid, it can be unclear what the protocol is at the end of your meal. At the first restaurant, we had to sign a receipt for our food before we left, while at the second, where the restaurant employees seemed fairly puzzled by our entire interaction, we didn’t need to do anything before leaving.
However, Adam Honig, the owner of Lasagna Ristorante, says that the app works very well on the restaurant’s end. When you order on the app, the restaurant receives a fax with your order and gets to work. “In a busy restaurant, it’s good to get a heads up about an order,” he says, and it’s a hit with a certain type of customer that might otherwise skip out on a restaurant lunch. “For some people, it’s exactly what they want—they want to sit down, they want to get it fast, and they want to get out of there. For that niche of people, it’s perfect.”
Honig says that when customers walk into a restaurant and the waiters already know what they want, “it makes them feel good that everything is already taken care of.” It feels luxurious to arrive and sit down at a table with a reserved sign and have your drinks already waiting for you.
Allset is only available in a few places (Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Manhattan) so far, and even then, the selection is limited. There are only a dozen options within a 15-minute walk of the Mental Floss offices in Manhattan, and there’s only one that’s within a 10-minute walk. If you’re pressed for time, a 30-minute round trip walk to get to a restaurant isn’t ideal—so it’s definitely not going to revolutionize the way you lunch, at least not until a whole lot more restaurants get on board. But if you really want to get out of the office during the day without encountering any unexpected waits, it’s a good way to go, especially if you want to feel a little fancy.