Do your research before signing up for a meal plan service
VANCOUVER -- Julie McMahon decided to try a meal service when she got busy working from home. Her mom suggested Caffeteria Gourmet, a service she had seen online.
“The meals looked really, really nice on the website,” McMahon said.
Meal plan delivery services have become very popular as many people try to cope with COVID. But some meals may leave you disappointed.
McMahon says she's kicking herself for not doing a bit more research before she signed up, and for paying in advance. She says Caffeteria Gourmet, a local company offering keto meal plans, didn't measure up to her expectations, and then the owner refused to refund her money.
“When the first meals started coming in, while they were OK, they weren’t anywhere near the pictures on the website," she says.
And the third week, she received five identical meals – coconut curry chicken on lettuce. She says she never got to pick or choose, even though the website promises variety, "so you don't get tired of our food," it says.
“It wasn’t great, but it was edible,” McMahon says.
Registered dietitian Ali Chernoff took a look at some of McMahon's meals. She says balance is important in meal plans.
“You do want some vegetables in there as opposed to just one lettuce leaf.”
But McMahon had already paid in advance and had two more weeks to go, so she contacted Caffeteria Gourmet's owner, a woman named Sienna, whose last name isn't listed on the site.
“I didn’t want to continue with it and I wanted a refund and she told me that there’s no refunds," McMahon said, adding she had paid $425 in advance via e-transfer after Sienna offered her a discount on the monthly meal plan - $479 for 10 meals each week.
So McLaughlin On Your Side gave Sienna a call to see what went wrong. She declined to tell us her last name.
"Yeah, that was a mix up that one time, definitely. That doesn't normally happen to give five meals in a row like that," Sienna said on the call. "I will give her the refund, 100 per cent, though."
She texted McMahon offering to refund her $256 for the five identical meals and the two unused weeks, but she wouldn't e-transfer the money because, she told McLaughlin On Your Side, she didn't want McMahon to know her full name. She wouldn't tell us her name either, which raised more questions.
"First and foremost - do they have FOODSAFE?" Chernoff asked.
Health regulators say certification in safe handling practices is necessary for companies making the meals, and they need FOODSAFE training in order to get a permit to operate. Sienna told us she had a permit under the name Caffeteria Gourmet.
We checked – it wasn't listed under Fraser Health or Vancouver Coastal Health, even though the Caffeteria Gourmet website says it services Vancouver and the Tri-City area. There's no address listed and Sienna wouldn't tell On Your Side who is making the meals, where they're made, or answer any other questions about her company.
Vancouver Coastal Health says they're going to check the company out, and recommends: "When ordering online, consumers should ask the business if it holds a valid Food Operating Permit from the regional health authority before placing an order. If they don’t, there are no assurances the food they are receiving was prepared in an approved facility and in a safe manner."
McMahon says now that if she were to do it all over again, she'd do things differently.
"I would certainly look for a kitchen address and a plant perhaps and I may go and visit it, if I had the time. I blame myself because I didn’t do my research and normally I do my research," she says. "And be aware of things like e-transfer payments and all of that."
She still hasn’t received a refund - Sienna wanted to send a driver to McMahon's house with cash and have McMahon sign some kind of letter, but McMahon wasn't comfortable with that and wanted an e-transfer, the same way she had paid.