I saved $1,700 eating leftover food from NYC’s top restaurants — what I got

Like so many other New Yorkers, Hani Mahmoud loves to go out to eat and try new things — but in an inflation-plagued city where everything seems to cost too much, the Upper West Sider struggles to avoid going broke from his love of food.

And while landing a good meal for, say, $10 in 2024 might seem like a 1950s pipe dream, Mahmoud has found a way to regularly score enviable eats on the cheap by bagging uneaten grub that restaurants plan to throw out.

It’s a hobby that has saved him nearly $1,700 in just two years — and no, he’s not a dumpster diver.

“[Sometimes] the restaurant might’ve had way more going to waste that day than they expected, and then you end up getting way more than the value than advertised,” TooGoodToGo user Hani Mahmoud told the Post. Stephen Yang

The 32-year-old public health worker uses TooGoodToGo, an app imported from Denmark that strives to curb food waste by helping customers find and “rescue” unwanted food from eateries and groceries — like a truffle hound, except the prize is a discount meal from a pricey venue like Eataly.

From there, Mahmoud scored a lavish meal comprised of a 9×11 inch sheet pan of lasagna, along with focaccia, salad and other top-notch items, all for a paltry $12 — around half the price of a far more basic burger meal at a Five Guys outlet in NYC.

“It sounded like a great way to try different restaurants around the city at a fraction of the cost,” New Yorker Mahmoud told The Post of giving the app — which launched here in 2020 — a whirl.

“This is one way to try and combat [food waste] while also giving the restaurants and the small businesses some support for things that they wouldn’t be able to sell,” he said.

The inflation-era savior we needed

A taste of what customers might get in the $14.99 TooGoodToGo bag from Eataly in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. Stephen Yang

Mahmoud is one of many wallet-weary diners and grocery shoppers turning to various dough-saving trackers like TooGoodToGo, or the Toronto-based Flashfood, which has made significant inroads into NYC via a partnership with Stop & Shop.

These apps are a welcome addition to the Big Apple, where food prices have become stratospheric amid inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food away from home costs in the New York Area surged 5.3% from February 2023 to February 2024.

US consumers spent 11.3% of their disposable income on food in 2022 – the most since the 1991 Gulf War – as inflation jacked up prices on everything from groceries to fast food. (To wit: McDonald’s $18 Big Mac meal.)

Some people even set timers so they’ll know the exact moment that Eataly’s mixed bag becomes available. Stephen Yang

Those signing up for TGTG score bags of excess or soon-to-be-expired inventory from participating establishments in their vicinity for around a third of the regular price — the big catch being that diners don’t know what’s in the bag beforehand.

Signing up and scrolling the deals is easy — businesses post their offerings, along with an estimate of the original value, giving the app user an idea of what kind of bargain they’re getting. You then reserve your mystery order — the most popular spots go within minutes sometimes — pay and pick up within a designated timeframe, ranging from right now to later in the day.

And while snagging tea sandwiches and macarons from Parisian macaron macher Ladurée for pennies on the dollar might be a lot of fun — Mahmoud recently paid $3.99 for a $12 bag from the French baker — there’s a serious mission behind the app.

A campaign to end food waste

TooGoodToGo customers don’t know what their bags contain beforehand so they’re essentially playing repast roulette. TooGoodToGo

Founded in 2016 in Copenhagen, TGTG was conceived as a way to combat the globe’s food surplus problem — which sees 80 million tons of food wasted in the US alone each year — by saving “bags of surplus food from going to waste at a great price.”

The food finder quickly took off and is now available in 27 states, boasts 92 million registered users and 217,000 active partners across Europe and North America.

In New York City alone, TGTG features 7,000 affiliated businesses, ranging from the JustSalad chain to dumpling purveyor Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown.

A bag containing three small cakes and a croissant from pastry shop Chanson, which Mahmoud purchased for $6.99 using TGTG. Stephen Yang

This has kept Mahmoud well-fed.

“If you’re lucky, you’ll get a fancy elaborate pastry or mini cake that would normally be 12, 15 bucks,” he said. “[Sometimes] the restaurant might’ve had way more going to waste that day than they expected, and then you end up getting way more than the value than advertised.”

He prefers pizza places and other specialty restaurants because you know — roughly — what to expect.

But, like so many New York users of the app — which allows you to rate every business you buy from, using the five-star system — what he really craves are the Eataly deals, which are often nearly impossible to get.

“They have a medium bag, which is $8, that gives you $24 worth of groceries or more,” the nickel-and-dimer told The Post. “And then there’s a large bag that costs $12 — and gives you $36 or more.” There’s even one for $14.99 that gives you $45 worth of stock.

Surplus grocery app Flashfood is making inroads in NYC with an exclusive deal with Stop & Shop. Flashfood Zone

In fact, Eataly’s “mixed grocery bags,” with everything from pasta dishes to breads and salads, have become so coveted that food influencers are filming unboxing-style TikTok videos showcasing what they received in their packages.

“As long as I don’t get food poisoning it’s a no-brainer,” declared one user named Audrey while unveiling a lavish spread of mushroom ragu, potato gnocchi and other boutique treats in a clip with 2 million views.

Chopping the grocery bill

Mahmoud, 32, picks out a salad with chicken from Honeybrains he purchased for $4.99 using the app TooGoodToGo. Stephen Yang

Queens resident Devin Tabor is another avid fan of the food surplus apps, but with multiple mouths to feed in his family of six, he’s less likely to be scouting TGTG for the next cookie giveaway — the 50-year-old is checking Flashfood for the latest deals.

The penny-pinching tool, he told The Post, has helped him save $400 in just a few months — a godsend after grocery prices have surged 25% over the past four years.

“It makes a difference in our family’s overall budget,” said the retired technology worker, who lost his gig of 25 years last year due to disability. “And if you are trying to shop for a family of six, every dollar counts.”

Unlike with TGTG, customers can literally see — via photos — exactly what surplus they’re getting ahead of time, along with a “best buy” date.

Some of Tabor’s notable hauls have included $70 skirt steaks for just $30 and $40 for several packages of oxtails that would’ve otherwise cost him more than double, as they’re normally priced at $100.

Many of his scores aren’t even “leftovers” in the conventional sense, either.

“I bought stuff from Flashfood that doesn’t expire until well into next year,” he told The Post. He also nabs nonperishable goods ”that don’t even expire,” like laundry dryer sheets.

“Maybe they are overstocked in that particular store, and they want to get rid of their stuff,” he surmised.

And whether it’s meant to be eaten on the spot or can be stored in the freezer indefinitely, surplus app adherents believe that the leftover juice is nearly always worth a squeeze.

“It’s important in that it gives people access to food experiences that they might not be able to afford or want to pay for otherwise,” said Mahmoud.

“If I weren’t married, I might use TooGoodToGo to eat every day.”

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