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LunchWorks (LW), while providing a very useful service that does work most of the time, has some unnecessary annoyances that make it frustrating to use.

I captured a series of screenshots while completing an order for lunch at Camelot Academy that Sandy had already added to the cart but not completed, due to problems I'll mention when I get there.

The complete series of screenshots is here; below is a list of issues, followed by a step-by-step walk-through of an attempt to place an order.

Issue Summary

These issues remained in effect as of Spring 2014.

  • The ordering window is very narrow -- typically only a few days.
  • The ordering window is not stated on the site, nor are there notifications from the site regarding when it has been set.
  • There is no way to place repeating orders.
  • It is not clear why there is a need for an ordering window in the first place.
  • The site is often down, or the checkout process is broken.
  • The cart times out after a very small number of minutes (~4 minutes or less).
  • These factors all combine to produce the end result that you may have to make repeated ordering attempts over several days in order to avoid gaps in lunch service, and you have to be very diligent in keeping your own records of what you ordered.
  • The site claims to offer credit card payment as an option (indeed, the only option), but in fact only takes PayPal.
  • The site unnecessarily requires the buyer's contact information.
  • The site configures the handoff to PayPal in a way that causes PayPal not to display a payment total. If you want to verify the total before paying, you have to go back 2 or 3 screens (which may require multiple logins).
  • The checkout process claims that a breakdown of order contents will be provided "later", but this never happens.
  • The site claims or implies it will send email confirmations when orders are placed, but it does not.
    • It would be standard business practice to send an email confirming the amount paid, payment method, meals ordered (for each: date for delivery, what was ordered from whom, cost), and a reference number.
  • The site has a number of bad internal links and can be difficult to navigate. Some information is available but hidden, with no clear indication that it is available.


I took notes as I attempted to place an order. I'll mark any substantial objections or questions in bold.

After logging in, the next page made it simple enough to find the previously-loaded shopping cart to confirm that everything was correct.

It feels slightly wrong to press a link instead of a button to check out, but since the cart data is already stored and is not editable at that point, it makes sense. The "check out" link takes me to the payment page, which shows a very brief accounting of what is being paid for.

  • Question: Why is "credit card" given as an option (and, indeed, the only option), when we have to pay through PayPal regardless? This is misleading and confusing.

Pressing the "Continue >>" button takes me to the "Process Payment" page, where our contact information is already filled in.

  • Question: Why do they even need this? It's not necessary for payment, because they only take PayPal. As I understand it, they would contact the school (not us) if there was some problem with our order, and the food is certainly not being delivered to our address.
  • Question: What does it mean when it says "Send me email updates"? Sandy interpreted this to mean that if you checked it, LunchWorks would send us an email confirmation after payment -- which would be great, and even something we would expect from this kind of transaction -- but as far as we can tell, we have never received any email from LunchWorks, although Sandy has always checked this box when placing an order.
    • This is still a problem as of 2012-03-01. The checkout page still has that same text, and we still do not receive any email from the site whatsoever.

After making sure our contact information was correct (despite not knowing whether it actually makes any difference), I press the "Submit" button and am taken to the PayPal login screen.

I should note that this was one place where Sandy was having serious trouble with the site a couple of weeks ago. We complained to the school, who eventually put me in touch with one of the developers -- I described the problem in detail, but got no response. I have no idea if they were able to actually fix something, or if the problem was transient and went away on its own (and may come back the same way). (This problem occurred again on 2012-02-26, which would have caused us to miss the ordering window if the school hadn't covered us.)

  • Problem: The PayPal screen claims, on the left, that "You'll be able to see your order details before you pay." This is incorrect.
    • This is not a PayPal issue; compare with this screenshot of an almost identical checkout process from TheRealms, a very small web hosting company (they have, I think, one part-time employee-owner). This latter screenshot not only does not claim that you'll be able to get more information before paying, but in fact gives a brief rundown of what you're paying for, including the amount and an invoice number.
    • The LunchWorks checkout doesn't even confirm how much you're paying, much less break it down or give you a reference number. An order total is shown [[earlier, but this amount is not repeated before the handoff to PayPal -- so if you get logged out and need to complete an order started earlier, there's no indication as to whether you are still paying the same amount, much less whether your cart still has the same contents. In other words, there is absolutely no way, at this point, to be sure that what you're about to authorize PayPal to debit is what you in fact want to pay for. It doesn't even mention "LunchWorks", but only the name of the school.
    • This problem was still in effect on 2012-03-01.

This is another point where Sandy has repeatedly gotten stuck, thinking that something might have gone wrong because there was no information about what she was paying for or how much she was paying -- not even on the next PayPal screen, which is your last chance to decide whether or not to authorize the payment.

I went ahead and authorized the payment, just to see what happened so I could document it fully. However, I had apparently spent too much time taking screenshots, and was taken to this screen at LunchWorks, which told me that "For privacy and security reasons, you have been logged out due to inactivity."

  • Problems:
    • Let's take a closer look at this "inactivity". The time-stamp on the last LunchWorks screenshot before entering PayPal(contact info) was 09:54:29. The time-stamp on the "you have been logged out" screenshot is 09:57:36. Wait, let's be pessimistic; maybe I hung out out a long time on the "contact info" page before taking the shot; okay, the stamp on the screenshot of the page before that (payment summary) is 09:53:33. Total elapsed time (most pessimistic assumptions) between accesses of the LW site: (09:57:36-09:53:33) = 4 minutes and 3 seconds... and for this I get timed out? Sometimes PayPal takes that long to load.
    • There was also no indication of whether the charge had gone through or not. I had to log back into PayPal via their usual front door, load my recent transactions, and make sure that there wasn't already a charge matching the one I thought I had authorized (but, of course, without being sure whether PayPal was given the correct amount or not, since I was never shown a total while on PayPal's site).
    • And... "privacy and security"? Really? When the only personal information we enter is parent's name, child's name, an email address which LW apparently never uses, and our home address which shouldn't even be necessary? Even banking sites, where someone could actually take your money if they gained access to it, give a longer time-out than 4 minutes. How about an hour? Or even 20 minutes?

Having verified that in fact, no, the charge had not gone through, I clicked the "click here" link within the text saying "Please click here to log back in" -- and was taken to this page, telling me that I had asked for a nonexistent page.

  • Problem: check your internal links, guys.

I think I was able to get back to the main page by clicking on the LunchWorks logo, and that page has a log-in link that worked.

Note that when you are logged in, there is no "log in" link -- which normally is the way to get back to the ordering page. So if you realize you need to go back in and modify your order, and you haven't been logged out, it is often easiest just to go back to the original school-specific entry point.

Making sure to be expeditious in my trip through PayPal this time, upon authorizing the payment I was taken instead to this screen -- finally confirming the amount I was paying, but...

  • Problem: ...only after I had authorized the payment, and...
  • Problem: ...still not giving me any kind of listing of what I'm paying for.

I did a little exploration after that, and found this page, which shows everything I had ordered for this month -- including one lunch already received, i.e. in the past, but not showing the meals in March that had been paid for and not indicating which lunches were attached to which payments. So that won't do for a receipt, though it's useful to have.

On further exploration, I found this page, which -- finally! -- shows each payment made and for what meals on what days. (It initially just shows each payment date, but these line-items "open up" when you click on them.)

One final mystery: why does every single page have an inline frame (sometimes multiple nested inline frames, e.g. the shopping cart) that contains the actual information? This makes no sense, and comes across as bad web design.

Positive Points

  • Contents of cart were saved properly and still available a day or two later
  • "Family Statement" page has all pertinent information organized in a readable way
  • Site seems reasonably responsive, normally
  • Logo-header is a link back to home page (some sites forget to do this)