How to Order Take-Away Food in China

Food delivery bikes often have a big box adorned with logos on the back.
Food delivery bikes often have a big box adorned with logos on the back. | © Kentaro IEMOTO / Flickr
Photo of Fran Lu
4 June 2018

More and more Chinese people are choosing to spend the whole weekend at home, sustaining themselves by ordering take-away food. You may not realize how popular the food delivery service is in China, but you might notice delivery bikes (characterized by a large rear box with logos printed on it) that ride recklessly on streets from time to time. Here’s a guide of how to order take-away food in China.

Two major food delivery apps in China

The most frequent and easy way to order take-away food is with one of the two main food delivery apps. Big brands, such as Meituan Waimai and Baidu’s Eleme have their own logistics teams that coordinate food delivery from restaurants that don’t have delivery service to your doorstep. You can also find big name chain restaurants that have their own delivery team, such as McDonald’s. These platforms will basically cover the restaurants (big and small) in your neighborhood, so they remain a top choice for locals. Delivery is becoming more and more popular as some restaurants offer tempting discounts for orders that exceed a certain dollar amount, and sometimes delivery can even be cheaper than dining at the venue.

Food delivery bikes often have a big box adorned with logos on the back. | © Kentaro IEMOTO / Flickr

The ABCs of how to use the Chinese apps

The only problem for foreigners is language, as both platforms don’t have English service. For expats in Beijing and Shanghai, congratulations! There’s an English food delivery platform called JinShiSong, though the restaurant choices are fewer and more high-end. For everyone else, we’ll teach you the ABCs of how to use the non-English platforms. Let’s take Meituan Waimai’s iOS app as an example:

© Homepage 1, Meituan Waimai

This is the homepage of the app. Don’t worry about the address on the top as the app can usually tell where you are (remember to turn on the locating service though). The section below the address lists various dining categories. Down at the bottom of the screen is the list of all the restaurants that offer delivery service in your neighborhood, so you don’t need to do anything other than scroll down. (The best time to take advantage of the categories section is when you need ingredients to prepare your own dish, or need groceries from a nearby supermarket.)

Basically, all the information you need about a restaurant is on the front page:

© Homepage 2, Meituan Maiwai

After making up your mind, tap the image that represents your favorite restaurant. All you need to do now is choose your food. The price is shown at the bottom left. After selecting enough items to reach the minimum order amount, click on the “Check out” button at the bottom right corner.

© Meituan Waimai

Now you need to input your exact address. Remember to use Chinese, and write your address as detailed as possible, because most delivery men don’t understand English. It is basically mission impossible to tell them where you are in a language they don’t know.

Here comes the last page before payment (finally!). You can pretty much figure out what to do with the translated screenshot below. To pay online, you need a Chinese bank card (you don’t have to write down your bank card’s information on the app as the app is linked to Alipay and WeChat Pay). You may also choose “Pay Offline,” but you won’t be able to enjoy the discounts, which are all online-only.

© Meituan Waimai

There you have it! That’s everything you’ll need to know to use the Meituan Waimai app. The Eleme app is more or less the same system and procedure. The only difference may be that the two platforms have different discounts. Time to enjoy your food!