Article By XIANEASE
Over the last couple of years, China has been in the grips of a trend that can only be described as the most dangerously convenient thing imaginable. If you’ve noticed the hordes of blue-and-yellow clad scooter drivers careening through already inscrutable Chinese traffic patterns, then you probably are aware that we’re now living in the age of “waimai” (外卖), or, in English, delivery. The apps that traffic in this service are loose conglomerations of restaurants in your immediate area and open up meal options from a simple liangpi (凉皮) and roujiamo (肉夹馍) combo, to something more elaborate like hot pot, and everything in between. It’s perfect for those nights where you don’t feel like cooking or going to your usual eateries, or for those who are addicted to fried chicken and want to eat it until their insides rot. It can be a bit tricky to set up, but once you’re ready to go, even you Chinese-illiterates can utilize these services and add another wrinkle of convenience to your life.BEFORE WE BEGIN
To get set up, you’ll first need a couple of things:
- A smartphone
- Your detailed address, in Chinese
- An account for making mobile payments (WeChat Wallet or Alipay are enough, and generally preferred)
Once that’s taken care of, we can get started.
CHOOSE AN APP
There are a lot of these apps now, and they differ mostly in the availability of restaurants. If you’re not sure, the safest bets are E Le Me (饿了么), which is the most famous and most used, Baidu Waimai (百度外卖), or Meituan Waimai (美团外卖), If you’re an iPhone user, a quick dive into the Chinese App Store should help you find these apps without a problem; Android users might have to poke around in the Baidu App Store or similar platforms to find it, and should be on the lookout for fakes. Make sure the one you’re going to download matches with the icons in this article.
Once the app has downloaded, it’s time to get your information in their system.
The first thing you want to look for is “登录,” the characters for “log in”. Most services will prompt you to enter your phone number (手机号) so they can send you a message with a special verification code in it (验证码).
If you’re not immediately prompted to enter your address (地址), some apps will ask you to do it while you’re placing your first order. If you can stand rooting around in the Settings, you can also add it yourself (look for 新增地址). If you can read and type Chinese well enough, you can skip to Step Four. If not, continue on to Step Three to learn how to enter your address.
ENTER YOUR ADDRESS
In this step, we will use E Le Me as an example.
The first line reads “联系人” (lian xi ren, or “contact person”). This is where you put your name. English names are okay. Underneath that you’ll see “先生” (xian sheng, “Mr.”) or “女士” (nvshi, “Ms.”). Choose whichever one you deem appropriate.
The second line reads “电话” (dianhua, “telephone”). This is where you put the phone number you’ll be using for your orders, most likely your own phone number.
The third line reads “地址” (di zhi, “address”). If you tap on the blank line, a location page similar to the one you know and love from WeChat will come up. Type in the Chinese name of your neighborhood and the app will fill in the street address itself.
The fourth line reads “门牌号” (men paihao, roughly “door number”). This is where you’ll have to fill in the details about your apartment. If, for example, you live in Building Number 3, Unit 1, Room 1505, you’ll need to type the following, without the pinyin, which we only put there to help you type it correctly: 3号楼 (haolou) 1单元 (danyuan) 1505号 (hao). If your building doesn’t have units, just skip that part.
Finally, there are three options you’re given to signify what kind of place you’re ordering from. The first is “家” (jia, “house”), next is “公司” (gong si, “company”), the last is “学校” (xuexiao, “school”).
Okay, great job, you did it! Double check the info and tap “确定” (que ding, here it means “confirm”).
Now comes the part you’ve been waiting hungrily for: ordering your food. These apps work on user ratings and comments, so a restaurant with 4 to 5 stars will be a safer bet than those with less than 4. If you want to dive into the comments and try to figure out why, be on the lookout for things like “不干净” or “不新鲜” (“unclean” and “not fresh,” respectively). You can also check out how long it took some other users to receive their food from the same restaurant.
Aside from that, you can search for a specific food or just scroll through a restaurant’s menu and choose something that seems appetizing. It’s a great opportunity to learn some of those important food characters, or, failing that, most dishes will be accompanied with a picture so you can at least see what it’s supposed to look like before they shove it in a box and send it flying to your apartment on the back of a scooter. When you pay, if you’re using Alipay, the bill will be taken directly from your account. If you use WeChat Wallet, you’ll be taken to WeChat to confirm the payment (which will also give you one last chance to back out of that Big Mac you know your fat ass shouldn’t be eating).
ODDS AND ENDS
If it’s your first time ordering, you may be asked to enter another verification code, this time sent to the contact number you listed with your address. This may be in the form of a robo-call, in which a computerized voice will read off a series of numbers, which you will then have to enter into the app. All it requires is that you know your numbers, but it can come fast, so be prepared.
If you’re all verified and everything, it’s still possible to receive phone calls. These will always be in one of two forms:
• If you receive a phone call very soon after placing the order, it’s probably the restaurant calling to confirm something, such as a replacement for something you ordered that they don’t have. That could be as simple as them not having Coca-Cola and asking if Bing Feng is okay. If you can’t speak much Chinese and are feeling bold, you could always do the trusty laowai trick of just saying “hao de!” and hoping for the best.
• If you receive a phone call around the time you’re supposed to receive your order, it’s probably the delivery guy lost as hell and unable to un-lose himself. In these cases you may have to repeat your address to him, or you may have to go outside and meet him. It’s kind of a pain, but not uncommon, especially if your neighborhood is super locked-down or if you’re ordering at odd hours.
• Option three is, of course, ignoring all such phone calls and hoping your food magically appears, but that’s kind of a gamble.
Rarely, a restaurant may decide that, for whatever reason, you can get bent and not get your food. This usually happens if the restaurant is almost closing (or because you ignored that phone call about confirming your order). Either way, you’ll get a notification from the app that contains the characters “取消” (quxiao, “cancel”).
So, that’s your guide to waimai! Hopefully you got through without a hitch and are chowing down right now! Best of luck and bon appetit.
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