Chinese food delivery apps 101

Delivery apps are the bread and butter of day-to-day Chinese living. Back home, the delivery fees are high and the food options are small, so the only thing I’ve ever really ordered for delivery was pizza. In China, ordering food is common practice and if you make the right choice, it can often be cheaper than making food yourself. Personally, I have kimchi soup multiple nights a week for less than 20 CNY (2.80 USD) and it’s cheaper and tastier than anything I could ever whip up; all thanks to delivery apps.

There are three main players in the delivering game: Elema, Meituan and Sherpas. Here is a brief introduction on the differences as well as a step-by-step guide to using them. Delivery apps have made my life in China so much easier and also has given me a lot of freedom! Now, I can have whatever I want, whenever I want. Sometimes it’s too much power for one girl to handle, so eat responsibly!

 

ELEMA

ElemaElema is my app of choice: I use it almost every day for at least one of my meals. It’s the most well-known, has the most options, and you can do just about anything on it: from ordering a meal, sending flowers to a loved one, or even getting medicine delivered. The only thing that keeps people from using it is simply the fact that it is all in Chinese, but don’t fret, I’m here to help.

 

Adding an Address

1. Name
2. Gender-Male
3. Gender-Female
4. Phone Number
5. Address
6. Floor (号楼) and Room Number (室)
7. Type of address-Home/Company/School

 

Home Page Navigation

1. 美食- Food
2. 超市- Supermarket
3. 水果- Fruit
4. 跑腿代购 – Leg Service
5. 甜品饮品- Beverages and Sweets
6. 星选好店 – High Ratings
7. 送药上门 – Medicine
8. 大牌惠吃 – Popular Brands
9. 蜂鸟配送 – Rarely will restaurants will do their own delivery, click this to ensure Elema will send it
10. 签到领红包- Sign up and get Red Envelopes (Discounts)
11. 发现 – “Discover” is used to find new foods
12. 订单 – This is where your previous orders are located. If you hit “再来一单“, you can order the exact same thing as before to save yourself extra steps
13. 我的- Your account/edit your personal info

 

Browsing Restaurants
Once you click on #1 美食 (food) it will take you here.
1-4 are all ways of refining your search
1. Categories you can filter your search by (price, lowest delivery time, highest ratings etc.)
2. Stores nearest to you
3. Good quality brands
4. This is simply another way to refine your search. Personally, I usually use the first one.
5-11 are all elements you see on an individual restaurant listing
5. Store name
6. Star ratings (out of 5)
7. How much they sell a month. If they say they only sold 100 then it should be a red flag.
8. Delivery fee (these can fluctuate). Sometimes they will be on sale and they get higher at night time
9. An estimate of how long it will take to get to you
10. How far away the store is
11. Discounts the restaurant offers. For example, this one is spend 30 CNY get 13 CNY off, or spend 60 CNY get 21 CNY off, or spend 100 CNY and get 23 CNY off your order. Sometimes adding food can make things almost cheaper with these discounts!

 

Within the Restaurant’s Page

1. Menu
2. Comments- Even if you can’t read Chinese people often post photos which can give you the vibe of the restaurant
3. Restaurant details- Here you can find their hours, address etc.
4. This is rare to see but important to note. This is something you NEED to have to complete your order. In this example, I picked Red Lips Restaurant and they need a base for you to order so #10 will not be clickable if you don’t click a base
5. Popularly purchased items
6. Sale items- Keep in mind most places will not let you have a discount on more than one item. If you put two in your cart, it will only give you the lower discount
7. Add to cart button
8. Discounts- This example shows add 45 CNY get 8 CNY off, or spend 65 CNY and get 12 CNY off
9. This is where the final food price will be shown (note: this is without the delivery and container fee)
10. The number at the bottom shows the minimum you need to spend in order for it to be sent. This box will turn green when the minimum is met. Click on it to check out and proceed to payment.

 

Onto Payment Screen

1. The delivery address, below is your name and mobile phone number
2. Expected arrival time
3. Payment method, you can change it to WeChat if needed (default is Alipay)
4. Order review
5. Container fee, this changes based on restaurant
6. Delivery fee

7. Red packet – these are coupons you can use with your order when available. If there are any there will be a red box here. As you can see, none can be used here.
8. Food total
9. Notes- Here you can write any added notes such as no spice, no meat etc. For example, if you buy Subway you can write what you want on your sub.
10. If you want, you can adjust how much cutlery you need. If you leave it blank they will just put in however many they think you need. If you want none open it and hit the first option.
11. Fapiao- If you need a fapiao (receipt) to get reimbursed for an EF event this is where you input the details.
12. Click this when you want to check out! If you have yet to meet the requirements (haven’t reached the minimum or haven’t clicked a mandatory item) it will be gray. To continue, this button will be green.

 

MEITUAN

Meituan looks almost identical to Elema. It’s more of a personal preference for which one you want to use; sometimes one has better discounts than the other. One of the differences is that it is connected to DaZhongDianPing (大众点评), an app where people can review restaurants, bars, and just about anything you can have an opinion on (think of it as a Chinese Yelp). Not every place on the app has the option to order, but if they do, they will have the option 外卖 (box in the red below). You can order through DianPing without ever having to leave the app and it will automatically be delivered through Meituan. Personally, the only time I’ve ever used this App instead of Elema is when I was in ZhengZhou for a weekend and Elema didn’t deliver to my area. Similarly, sometimes this app has different food options for the same store.

MeiTuan Home Page


1. Food
2. Supermarket
3. Fruits and Vegetables
4. Meituan Delivery- Sometimes the store will deliver themselves. This ensures it’s a Meituan delivery driver
5. Leg Service
6. Dinner Recommendations
7. Sweets and Beverages
8. No Delivery Fee
9. Meal Sets
10. Medicine
11. Homepage
12. Orders
13. Personal Account

 

Within the Restaurant’s Page

1. Expected Arrival Time
2. Discounts- The first one is spend 50 CNY get 6 CNY off your total bill
3. Food Menu
4. Comments about the Food
5. Restaurant Information
6. Popular Items
7. Discounted Items
8. Options on this dish- If you don’t see the plus button that means that more choices to select before moving on. For example, if I clicked on this dish there are options to pick how you want your egg cooked
9. Delivery Fee
10. Minimum Spend Amount

 

SHERPAS

Sherpas is much more straightforward as it is catering to foreigners, and as such it is all in English. You’re probably thinking why doesn’t everyone use this if it’s in English? Well, there are drastically fewer food options than Elema and Meituan. The options cater more towards western foods and in doing so, it misses the small mom and pop shops on Elema that tend to have some of the best Chinese food. Similarly, in having these foreigner restaurants, the food tends to be more expensive.

Additionally, while Elema and Meituan delivery fees vary, Sherpa’s is a typical 15+ CNY all across the board. Unless you have a promo code, you won’t see Sherpa’s delivery fees lower than 15 CNY. Elema fees tend to average 5 CNY, but I’ve seen them as low as 0.08 CNY all the way to 8 CNY (delivery fees increase at night due to a high order demand). Therefore, try to get comfortable using one of the other options as it will save you quite a bit of money in the long run. One small perk is that to my best knowledge there is no minimum spending amount.

Here’s an example of what a Sherpa’s page looks like. As you can see it’s very straight forward. 15 CNY delivery fee is listed up top as well as an estimated wait time. Food is listed below and you can easily pick it without asking your friendly local teacher to constantly translate whenever you’re hungry. Checkout is just as breezy.

 

Are you ready to try your hand at China’s food delivery apps?

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Maggie Radl has studied Chinese since she was 14 and always knew she’d end up in China after graduating. She is an animal lover, environmental hippie and all around china enthusiast. She loves meeting new people and answering questions so don’t be afraid not reach out and contact her!