Article by Tim King
Okay, it’s confession time. I am an absolute idiot in the kitchen. Any recipe that requires skills much more complicated than frying an egg or grilling a cheese is lost on me—therefore, I don’t cook for myself much. Between that and needing to eat during office hours, I have become a Meituan superhero. The convenience is more preferable to me than fumbling around over a pan for twenty minutes and wondering if I’m ruining all the nice fresh produce I bought. However, using a waimai (外卖, delivery) app brings its own special game of culinary roulette. I’ve gotten some downright disappointing meals lately, and not to editorialize too much, but those meals have been disappointing to the point that I think they merit criminal fraud charges. So, how can you avoid my fate? Well, knowing how to cook. If that’s you, congrats. Skip the rest of this article, you’re better than me. But if you’re like me, perhaps this article can help you get to the bottom of why your delivery always sucks.
FOLLOW THE CROWD
When you’re looking through the never-ending list of restaurants to order from, I’m guessing you’re first focused on the one thing in the entire app that isn’t in Chinese, meaning a restaurant’s star rating. But there’s a thing or two you should check out as well. Firstly, find the part that says “月售.” The number next to this denotes the number of orders in the last month from this particular restaurant (if you’re a Taobao user, you should look for this as well when choosing a store to buy from).
Now, popularity isn’t everything, obviously. But without much else to go on, I’d probably trust a restaurant with 4.6 stars and 1000 monthly orders than another with 5 stars and 10 monthly orders. You might be thinking, “4.6 stars isn’t bad at all!” That brings us to our next point.
THE STAR REPORT
Stars are the defining metric for a restaurant on a delivery app. But scroll through and you’ll notice that there really aren’t any restaurants below 4 stars. That means we’re going to need to grade restaurants on a curve (spoiler alert: any place with fewer than 4 stars will give you the Hantavirus).
First and foremost, we should talk about how ratings are made. Before we get in the weeds, I want to float a theory, that theory being that I’m pretty sure people leaving ratings aren’t the most critical bunch. Which is fine. I imagine it to be a lot like when I used to teach English and my job depended on how highly the students rated me. Getting 5 stars amounted to me doing a fine job, delivering what was promised and not making anyone cry. I’d have to assume it’s roughly the same deal here. The inverse of that is, of course, when someone is really pissed off about what just arrived to their door and they bomb the restaurant with a negative review. But that’s not so simple either.
If you actually try to review a restaurant, the app will make you rate two things out of 5 stars, not just overall quality. The first metric is taste and the second metric is packaging (i.e. how well did it arrive to your house). Sounds straightforward and eminently reasonable—until you realize that the storefront’s star-rating is an average of the two. Imagine, for a second, two possible extremes under this system: 1 star for taste and 5 stars for packaging (such as a dog turd jiamo served on a silver platter); and 5 stars for taste and 1 star for packaging (such as the best roujiamo you’ve ever had fed to you directly from the delivery guy’s mouth, like he was the mama bird and you were the baby bird). Under this system, both scenarios result in a 3-star rating. Starting to see the problem? You won’t find any 3-star restaurants like this on the app, but you will find more than a couple of 4-4.5 stars that are somewhere in the less-than-4 range for taste (and remember, anything under 4 stars is instant dysentery) and are being buoyed by their packaging rating.
And hey, if you’ve gone through all that and you’re still not sure, definitely scroll through the comments section on the restaurant you’re checking out. You might not be able to read any of the comments, but waimai apps allow users to upload pictures of their food with their comments.
Obviously, the answer here is to put on my big boy pants and learn how to use a wok without causing a 5-alarm fire, but that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. For me, and all of you out there like me, this is just the burden we have to bear.
Tim King is the editor-in-chief of Xianease and has a body by Meituan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org