Best Food Delivery Apps in China and How to Use Them

September 27, 2022

The food delivery industry is an ever-growing one throughout China. This growth has allowed people the convenience of eating a vast range of foods without ever having to leave their homes or workplace.

As in any industry in China, many apps are created to allow the public to access the service conveniently. The food delivery industry is no different. Unfortunately, the apps that you are used to back home, such as DoorDash, UberEats, and Grubhub aren’t available in China, so you’ll need a local option.

Let’s look at the best food delivery apps in China that can satisfy your culinary needs.

Most Popular Food Delivery Apps in China: Meituan Waimai (美团外卖) and Eleme (饿了么)

Tencent-owned Meituan and Alibaba-owned Eleme are the two market leaders when it comes to food delivery in Mainland China!

Their dominance is unmissable as the Meituan drivers dressed in yellow with the logo of a smiling kangaroo all over their coats, helmets and bikes and their Eleme counterparts clad in blue are visible throughout the country.

eleme food delivery app

Eleme, founded in 2008, and Meituan, founded in 2010, provide identical services, and discounts when it comes to food delivery. Meituan is the most popular Chinese food delivery app amongst users because it provides a larger range of services and seems to have more delivery drivers. Which one you use just comes down to personal preference.

Even though the apps are solely in Chinese, it’s not as overwhelming as you may fear. The majority of restaurants provide images of what they offer on their menus, and you can monitor the whereabouts of your food via the app.

eleme restaurant menu

Both companies provide a vast range of local restaurant options, as well as global fast-food giants such as McDonald’s and KFC. Whatever you fancy, you will undoubtedly be able to find it on either app.

Do be aware that if you select a restaurant that is too far away, neither the restaurant nor the delivery driver may want to accept the order. The restaurant will be wary of a negative rating as the food may be cold by the time it gets to you, and the delivery driver will fear a negative rating for tardiness. The repercussions of a negative rating may not be worth the hassle for them.

It is possible to convince the drivers to take the order by opting to pay extra for the meal you are desperate to have - I speak from experience.

Sherpas (食派士)

If the idea of ordering food using an app that is solely in Chinese is a little scary, then Sherpas might be the hero you need.

Sherpa-s food delivery homepage

Sherpas has an English app, and it provides plenty of western restaurants for homesick expats (but only in Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou for now).

Delivery, depending on your location, can be quite expensive, so do keep that in mind.

While you are likely to find plenty of Western food and several upscale restaurants on this Chinese food delivery app, Sherpas is very limited in which restaurants they work with. Unfortunately, this means the chances of finding a quick meal from a cheap local restaurant is unlikely.

WeChat Mini Programs for Food Delivery in China

Although it is advised, it is not always essential to download a food delivery app as you can go through WeChat’s mini programs.

If you search for Meituan in the WeChat search bar, you will find a mini program for it, as both WeChat and Meituan are owned by Tencent. Some restaurants also have their delivery app available as a mini program with WeChat as well, making it easier to order directly from said restaurant.

Meituan Food delivery Wechat miniprogram

As you can imagine, you can only pay using WeChat Pay when you go through the mini programs.

If you have Alipay, Eleme is built into the Alipay app for convenience. Obviously, if you go this route, you will only be able to pay using Alipay.

Individual Restaurant Apps

As mentioned above, ordering from chain restaurants is possible from Meituan and Eleme, but for more specific options, it is better to download the restaurant's official app. Big fast-food franchises like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and KFC have apps that provide more options and better discounts.

These franchises also have their own delivery drivers which means that you don’t usually need to pay a delivery fee. More importantly, an English version of the app is typically available, making them expat friendly.

After all, if you want something, it’s always better to go to the source…or in this case, the company's app (as going to the restaurant is not convenient enough in our modern world).

How To Order Food Using Chinese Delivery Apps

To order food using the apps is relatively easy. Before you start searching for food, it is important to register yourself on whichever app you are using.

Make sure to put in your name, correct phone number, and your address - it is possible to register more than one address. This allows you to order food whether you are at work, at home, at a friend’s house, or elsewhere. However, do be careful that you are having the food delivered to the correct address, as it is very troublesome to get a delivery driver to change the location if incorrect – again, I speak from experience.

Once you have your profile set up, you can search for nearby restaurant options or type in the food or dish you are craving. It is even possible to search for a particular restaurant if you know where you want to eat from.

Meituan food delivery app homepage

Once your order is set, all that’s left is to pay. It is possible to register your card on most Chinese food delivery apps but this can be a little complex. The advised option is to pay using Alipay or WeChat Pay.

Once paid, you just wait for your food. The delivery driver will usually call you or simply knock on your door when they arrive.

How Long Does Food Delivery in China Usually Take?

Food delivery in China doesn’t usually take very long if you use big apps such as Meituan or Eleme. However, it is no mystery that food delivery times can vary depending on the time of day you are ordering, and how far away the restaurant is. If you live in China, you already know that traffic can be bad.

On average it takes around 45 minutes for your food to arrive when you use one of the top two Chinese food delivery services. With Sherpas, you’re likely to wait closer to an hour.

All food delivery companies provide an estimated time of arrival for your food, but that is not to say it will be earlier or later. Just wait patiently and try to keep yourself busy until the food arrives.

Resolving Problems with your Order on Chinese Food Delivery Apps

When a problem occurs, it is possible to resolve the issue via the customer service of the Chinese food delivery app with which you ordered the meal.

eleme app customer service contact

Both Meituan and Eleme have a 24/7 helpline which you can contact via the app. If you don’t speak Chinese, it’s worth giving it a go in English, but you are unlikely to be successful. The alternative is to use a translator to try and communicate.

Luckily for expats, WeChat has the perfect built-in translation tool to help. Take a screenshot of the Chinese message. Then, in WeChat click the + button at the top.

wechat scan button

Click “Scan” and then “Translate” at the bottom.

wechat scan to translate feature

Click “Album” to upload the screenshot.

Depending on the problem that occurred, it is possible to have the issue resolved within 10 minutes.

Sherpas also has a helpline, albeit not as quick to respond as Meituan and Eleme, they still get to the working on issues quickly.

Are Doordash, Uber Eats and GrubHub available in China?

No, unfortunately, DoorDash, UberEats, and Grubhub aren’t available in China, so you’ll need to rely on one of the Chinese food delivery apps mentioned above.


So, there you have it: everything you need to know about the best food delivery apps in China and how to use them.

If you want to feel more comfortable with navigating Chinese food delivery apps, sign up for online private Chinese lessons and grow your confidence!

It’s only a matter of time before you get ordering your next meal from the comfort of your home, office, or any other place you want to be when you order.


About the Author

Mehmet has been a struggler, learner, and maybe one day a solid grasper of the Chinese language and country thanks to his decade-plus spent in the Middle Kingdom.