China is one of the leading countries across the world when it comes to easy online meal-ordering services and payments. Nowadays, ordering food through apps has become more commonplace than cooking in many households, as it is cheap, fast, and convenient. Foreigners living in China, have also gotten used to this way of life, despite maybe encountering some difficulties, and have found this service to be a great alternative to eating-out or cooking.
Of course, ordering meals online in China is a learning curve, and may be somewhat challenging at first. If you are hungry to learn about how to utilize some of China's most popular online meal-ordering services, the below guide will explain everything you need to know!
Ways To Order Food Online in China
General Food-ordering Apps
The most popular way of ordering food is undoubtedly through phone apps. At present, there are two leading companies that offer this service, and both do not have significant differences in use or quality.
The first is known as 'Meituan Waimai' (美团外卖), known for its yellow kangaroo logo, seen on thousands of electric delivery bikes riding across cities.
The second app is called "Eleme" (饿了么) and is similarly seen across cities with their blue-dressed delivery drivers.
The majority of restaurants in the city, whether small establishments and street-food vendors, fancy restaurants, or fast-food chains, will surely be available to order through one or both of these apps. In recent years, even mini-markets, grocery stores, and supermarkets are featured, and allow you to conveniently have your shopping list delivered to your door in no time!
Registration on these apps takes about a minute and requires just a working phone number to receive the verification SMS.
Specific Restaurant Apps
Some restaurants, particularly popular western fast-food chains such as McDonald's, KFC, and Pizza Hut, would have their own separate apps where you can order from, and may be easier to use as English is usually available, and navigation is obviously easier. These apps just require you to quickly register using phone or email, input your address, and the app will automatically direct your order to the branch nearest to you. Such apps may offer more payment methods than the other two mentioned above.
The popular messaging app, Wechat, which surely every foreigner residing in China is already familiar with, has a feature called "Mini-Programs", which are in essence "add-on" apps that operate through the platform. These apps can range anywhere from translation, bus-routes and schedules, and of course; food delivery. Some restaurants will have their own "mini-programs" on Wechat, for easier/faster ordering service that does not go through the apps mentioned above. Only Wechat Pay can be used for this option.
How to Order
Ordering food is as simple as opening the app, and scrolling through the dining choices near you. You will see an endless list of all the restaurants (usually within a 5-6 Km radius) that are ready to take your order. If you want to narrow down your search, at the top of the page there will be categories of food to help focus your browsing, such as breakfast food, western food, fast food, etc.
If you have a specific food in mind (and you are able to type it in Chinese), you can search for the food, and you will likely see dozens of results to choose from. Once you pick your restaurant of choice, you can scroll through the menu, which will always include pictures and prices, and simply select the food you want to order. If you are hesitant, of course, each restaurant has its review page, where you can see customer's comments and pictures, so that you know exactly what you can expect to get.
After selecting all the food, you just need to pay, and viola! the food is on its way.
There is also an option for self-pickup from the restaurant for if you happen to be in the area.
When your restaurant of choice receives your order, they will begin preparing the food, and a delivery-driver will quickly start to make their journey to pick up the order. Most deliveries are quite quick (within 30-45 minutes), and rarely exceed an hour. Once the delivery-driver has picked the food up, they will head out to your address, and you will be notified. When you open the app, you can even follow the driver in real-time, and see exactly where they are on their journey.
Your delivery address has to be exact, to avoid confusion for the delivery drivers. You may ask your landlord, building management, or Chinese friend to help you figure out what is the correct address. Once you input it into the app once, it will be saved and used each time you order unless choosing otherwise.
The majority of buildings and living-complexes will allow food-deliveries to go directly to your door. In recent years, some building managements have decided that it is safer for food to be left in the lobby of the building, and for people to pick their orders up themselves. If that is the case, the delivery driver will call upon arrival.
Delivery costs are very cheap and don't usually add up to more than 5 RMB, making them extremely affordable.
Paying for online food can only be done through the app (no cash upon delivery), and almost always uses one of China's popular online-payment platforms.
The two most popular methods of online payment, are through Wechat Pay, and Alipay. Both of these systems are used by linking a credit or debit card (usually Chinese, but foreign banks may also be accepted in some cases), and then you automatically have a virtual wallet that can be used to pay for almost every online service in existence.
Ease of Use
If you are wondering how easy it is to use such methods of online food delivery, the answer (like for many things in China), is that practice makes perfect. Generally, the process itself is very easy to learn, and a couple of times are all that's needed to understand.
Of course, the main issue is language. All of the apps mentioned above are only available in Chinese (for now), and therefore would require non-Chinese speakers to be able to use common sense and intuition when in the app.
The language problem only really matters if you want to search for a specific food (in which case you can copy + paste the translation from your chosen translator app). Everything else mostly just requires you to scroll through pictures of restaurants and dishes.
All in all, online meal-ordering services in China are built with convenience and simplicity in mind, which is why they have become such popular dining options. Even for foreigners who struggle with the language, or who may not be tech-savvy, using these services will only take a handful of times to master!
If you are still unsure about how to order certain foods in Chinese, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to ordering Chinese food, so that you can easily find your favorite food next time you use online-ordering!
Resolving Potential Problems/Disputes
As can be expected, from time to time, there may be some unexpected problems during the online ordering process. Below are some common issues, and what you can expect to happen if they do occur.
a) The restaurant is Out of a Certain Item
Usually, if a restaurant is out of a food item, they will update it on the app so that it won't be available. Sometimes, they may forget. If so, and you have already placed an order, they will call and tell you to do one of two things.
1. If you have ordered other items as well, and you don't mind giving up that one item, the order will proceed as normal, and they will reimburse you for the item that is not available. This can be done through the app, through Wechat, or the most popular way; the restaurant will give the cash-equivalent to the delivery driver, and deliver it to you along with the rest of the food.
2. If however, that unavailable item was the only thing you ordered, or you don't want the rest of the order without it, you may cancel the order. Cancelling can only be done on your side, and is as simple as clicking the cancel-button (取消), and then selecting a reason from the list. After that, the money will be refunded back to your wallet within minutes.
b) You have waited too long, and the food still hasn't arrived
This happens sometimes! Bad weather, heavy traffic, or maybe a busy day for the restaurant, means your order may be delayed. In such cases, first you need to see where the delay is taking place; did the delivery-driver already pick up the food?
If they hadn't, then the restaurant is at fault, and you may call to check. If the driver has picked up the food, you will need to call them directly. Their phone number is always displayed in the app, and you may call to inquire about the delay. In both cases, you may cancel the order, as long as the waiting time has exceeded the assigned delivery time presented when you ordered.
c) The restaurant got your order wrong
Sometimes, you open your food and realize that you got the wrong order or are missing an item.
If you are missing an item, you may call the restaurant, and get reimbursed for that specific item.
If the whole order is wrong, and you do not wish to eat it (this part is important) you may call and ask for a full reimbursement. The restaurant has to accept, but they may choose to send the delivery driver to go and take the order back (which is why you shouldn't eat from it). Sometimes they may just reimburse you, and let you keep the wrong order.
Discover More of China's Food Culture and Modern China with Us
Want to explore more of China's food and cuisine? See our Food Tours.
We also offer many experiences that will give you a taste of innovation and modern life in China. See our New China Tour Experiences.
If you have unique ideas in mind for exploring China, no problem! We are experts in tailor-made travel. Let us create a trip according to your requirements.