This is a branded image from the site, but a fairly good representation of what the experience is like. But this is Portland so bring your own bag.
This is a branded image from the site, but a fairly good representation of what the experience is like. This is Portland, so bring your own bag. Courtesy of Too Good To Go

Everybody likes a deal. But many deals that sound advantageous at first often end up costing us in time and energy. In the case of the Danish app Too Good To Go—which seeks to eliminate food waste by connecting customers with leftover ingredients from restaurants and cafes—there are hiccups and benefits to the exchange.

Overall, the idea works. Users find and reserve "surprise bags" from nearby businesses, and pay only a third of what the bag's contents would normally retail. In return, restaurants can recoup some of the cost on food they would otherwise have thrown away.

The possible contents of a surprise bag are broad, and that's part of the benefit for the shop—low effort on their part. Generally businesses give some indication of what customers can expect—Eb & Bean offloads excess dairy free yogurt, Petite Provence probably has extra pastries—but the contents are meant to be unexpected.

While customers have no control over what they will receive, some might prefer a surprise—or feel pretty amenable to any food, especially if there's a deal involved. Using the app reminded me of many fine college budget evenings, trotting over at 2 am to our nearby pizza parlor to see if there were any freebies, or the unexpected glory of working at a coffee house until closing time and hearing those three magic words: Anybody want bagels?

The main thing to know about Too Good To Go is that 90 percent of what you will find on there will be day-old pastries. If you like sweets and bread, this is your heaven. If you're trying to find greens and meats, you'll have to check the app often.

Anyone who has worked in food service will likely argue that leftover goods should go to staff, but it's not like Too Good To Go sends you home with all the leftover pizza. What you get is a meal's amount of food at a third of the price. So, if a pizza parlor sells slices for $4 a pop, you could probably expect to receive three or four slices instead of one by paying $3.99 on the app.

Some businesses seem to really take pride in the process. In the three months that I kicked around Portland with the app, Laughing Planet always impressed with the care they took to present an actual meal: entree, chips, and sometimes a drink or cookie, all ready to go. The same can be said of Taylor Street Kitchen, a newer deli and specialty foods shop by the downtown library.

Other places simply give you the excess and let you prepare it yourself. Henry Higgins Boiled Bagels will sell you nine day-olds for five dollars through the app, but when you pick them up, you may notice that there are bags of day-olds already available without any need to use technology. Eschewing the app also allows you to eyeball the selection for preferred flavor options. With Too Good To Go you get what they give you. As it happened, I was not disappointed in my nine jalapeño strawberry bagels, and they were perfectly good the next day—longer if you take part in the time-honored tradition of slicing and freezing bagels for future, hangry mornings.

The main thing to know about Too Good To Go is that 90 percent of what you will find on there will be day-old pastries.

SeaSweets Poke politely presented me with solid two pounds of white sticky rice and shrimp in a baggie that made me feel like I'd just won a goldfish at a carnival. Afterward, I found myself thinking that for a few dollars more I could have any poke choice I wanted, and toppings to go with it.

In this way, Too Good To Go also seems like a useful tool for businesses who want more exposure. At every place where I had a good experience, I ended up revisiting and paying full price. Unfortunately the opposite is also true. If someone comes in expecting a deal and there's no extra pizza that day, it could put them off a business for a while.

One of the buggy aspects of the app is that there doesn't seem to be an option for businesses to cancel offers, if they don't have leftovers. Over the course of 20 visits, I got stood up twice which put me out for time, travel, and how impatient I can be when my blood sugar is low. There's a bit of a deal-seekers dilemma where the user is seeking food that needs to be eaten soon, but can't necessarily rely on it.

Too Good To Go will work best for users with flexible schedules and no food allergies. I can't stress enough that you cannot control what they give you. However, deal hounds and foodies on a budget could easily turn this app into a lot of cheap, unexpected gourmet adventure.

Too Good To Go is available wherever fine apps are downloaded. As of today, it's operating in 12 US cities.