Is Down to Lunch dead?

By all accounts and purposes it seems that Down to Lunch is destined to have the same fate as Peach, an app that was super popular for a few weeks and then — once the hype subsided — it couldn’t retain its following and sustain usage in its user base.

It’s a very interesting phenomenon that apps and games can shoot so fast to the top of the charts and then disappear in a matter of weeks.

Not so fast.

Down to Lunch became very popular as a tool for college students to easily get together and, in my opinion, managed to create the simplest and most straightforward experience out of all the other planning apps.

But Down to Lunch has already faded into the background. It used to be #1 in U.S. Overall App Store rankings as well as U.S. Social Media rankings; now it’s not even ranked in overall rankings and ranked >600 in U.S. Social Media. Why would it take off now?

Simple: Demographics, Value Prop and Growth Hacks. Let’s discuss them one by one.


When you look at the Down to Lunch experience it’s very clear which demographic it’s suited for.

Down to Lunch demographic requirements:

  • High Density: How close together are the people. (#bodiespersquaremile)
  • Lots of free time: People need to have a perceived high amount of free time in order to shoot somewhat indiscriminate invites to large groups.
  • High degree of community: Inviting a lot of people at once is sensible when people are in a similar environment with something binding them together; as people age they tend to be a lot more selective with the people they see on a daily basis. The “invite everyone!” model is often, rare.
  • Matching schedules: Schedules need to be somewhat similar in order to facilitate quick interactions and last minute planning.
  • Flexibility: Having the flexibility to choose and change plans last minute.

Let’s see how this framework applies to different demographics in order of age:

High School?

  • High Density: Quasi-check. Most people live at home in high school and not on a campus. High density during the day (check), low density during free or “non school” time.
  • Lots of free time: Check.
  • High degree of community: Check.
  • Matching schedules: Check.
  • Flexibility: Not always. Many high schoolers depend on their parents to both approve the plans, take the car, or be driven to where they need to go.
Verdict: Close but no cigar.

Young Professionals?

  • High Density: No. People live scattered around a big city.
  • Lots of free time: No. Free time is fairly scarce so people tend to be very selective with whom they see and when. The “invite everyone!” model tends to fade.
  • High degree of community: No. There’s nothing linking people together as college does. The “invite everyone!” model tends to fade.
  • Matching schedules: Quasi-check. People have somewhat similar work schedules.
  • Flexibility: No. It’s very hard to change or create plans at the last minute given the lack of free time and the increasing variance in people’s schedules. Things tend to be planned a lot more in advance.
Verdict: It could work well but the paradigm needs to shift to accommodate for this significant demographic difference.


  • High Density: Check. College campus.
  • Lots of free time: Check. Lots of time around classes. Most people never re-encounter the amount of “disposable time” they used to have while in college.
  • High degree of community: Check.
  • Matching schedules: Check.
  • Flexibility: Check. College students have pretty much full flexibility to make plans on the fly and to just “walk over” to the right building/dorm/field/etc.
Verdict: ✔ The college demographic fits Down to Lunch like a glove.

Given that we established that Down To Lunch model fits the college demographic very well, let’s see what they do to make things so simple.

Value Prop

The 4 steps of simple:

  1. See everything trending around you (or at your school).
  2. Choose who you want to go with, notifying only nearby friends.
  3. Only the people deciding to go get put in a chat with you.
  4. You decide to form a group chat or keep the interactions 1-on-1.
Herding catsNow simple.

What makes Down to Lunch so appealing though? In short the fact that it answers the question of what, who, and when in the most dead simple way possible.

We’ll use a back-of-the-napkin Nir Eyal Hook Model to quickly see why:


I’m bored


Open Down to Lunch.

Variable Reward

The first thing I see is what’s happening around me. I never know what I’ll find on the next open:

Dead simple. Not a long list of events with different UI elements — just a simple curated list of what’s going on around you that’s trending today. Pressing on the red “i” brings you to the ticket or event page.


Creating groups of friends and having your conversations within the app itself as well as “collecting points” for inviting pretty much every single one of your friends (this backfired a while back as multiple people reported receiving dozens of different invites).

Growth Hacks

Take that super simple value prop and combine it with very obvious and sometimes aggressive growth tactics and gamification to invite people to the app:

Invite Friends Take 1:

I can invite friends from Facebook, my Address Book, or share my username with anyone using the Apple Share Panel.

Invite Friends Take 2:

The only invite that is actually part of the core functionality of the app. The interesting part is that you’re looking at my entire phone book. Whomever I choose from my contacts gets an automatic SMS message with the download link.

Invite Friends + Gamification Take 3:

From the chat screen the most visible part is inviting friends and seeing “how many friends they will have if they join”. This invite flow is further amplified by “points” you’re earning.

Going to the Settings Page I can again invite friends from the menu and again see the gamification/invite at the bottom of my screen.

Considering that the app is only 3 main screens, that’s quite a bit of growth and viral loop integrations.

Other growth tactics:

  • Group Invite Codes: Enter a code to get into the “cool kids” group at your college.
  • School Affiliation: Choose your school (you can only do this once) and see school specific “trending events”.
  • Secret Codes: Classic exclusivity, excitement, and variable reward levers for user retention.

In conclusion Down to Lunch built a simple solution to a pain point that many college students experience and aced it by combining that simple value prop with some masterful growth hacks and viral loops.

Conclusion: Is Down to Lunch dead?


Let’s take a look at App Annie and the Down To Lunch App Rankings:

The lines are the App Store Chart Position in the US Social Media Category (red) and US Overall App Store Category (blue)

Looking at the graph, it looks just like a hype cycle: app shoots to number one position, stays there for a while, and then decreases to number 600+ to always be forgotten.

Until we look at the chart again and consider the demographics:

The falls in ranking are perfectly correlated with college breaks and to some extent exams:

I am convinced that this is not the last time we’ll hear of Down To Lunch and that, as college goes back in session, we’ll hear quite a few more exciting stories coming from that direction.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what caused that spike in the past 2 days (the very end of the chart): more craftsman growth hacking happened!

The new Facebook Invite Screen:

Facebook Invite screen

If I click Invite All, I will successfully invite all my 1800+ Facebook “friends” to Down To Lunch. As long as it doesn’t annoy people, it’s a pretty solid growth lever.