Apps for your Appetite

China is developing fast in every way, catching up with global trends and leading the world in others. While digital food delivery might be a new thing in the western world, China has already mastered it. 

Shanghai is a foodie city; it's vibrant. A city that never sleeps. It has many traditional restaurants devoted to local specialties, but it’s also an international metropolis and thrives with multicultural restaurants. Lunch and dining options are endless, and this is part of the success of its food delivery systems, sites and apps dedicated to deliver your most unusual cravings in thirty minutes or less. Food delivery is cheap in China. From one to four dollars, you can get almost anything to your doorstep.

“China [food delivery] is dominated by two major players: Sherpas and E.le. Ma. They account for 95% of the market,” explains Stone Shi, founder of Bon App, a prominent new mobile food delivery app.

 There are two main markets: Chinese people, and the ex-pat community. Sherpas is mostly dedicated to providing food delivery options to ex-pats and foreigners. They cater to their needs and preferences with an English language interface, but recent changes in management and instability show that there’s room for other players. Smaller companies like EKD (Ex-pat Kitchen Delivery) are getting better every month, growing their database and collecting followers. Now associated with Bon App, it looks like it’s time for newer and better apps.

Stone has lived in China for eight years, and he has been running Bon App for five. Today Bon App is one of the most popular foodie apps around. The app is not just a food delivery platform (powered by EKD), it’s a community-based application. With already 1,000,000 downloads and active users using the app six times a day, it must be good.

Bon App started as a restaurant review application created to help people find good places to eat. With an initial database of 400 restaurants, Stone was thinking big. “I wanted to do something real for the community, for the people around me,” he says. Now the app works on 13 cities.

Bon App Profile Pic

“Food just brings the best part out of everyone in a community”

The App allows users to write reviews about the restaurants and upload pictures. Users can compare prices and even get access to Wi-Fi passwords for each place. The intention was to connect people over food, something real and tangible. However, getting them engaged has not been easy “Only 10% [of users] write a review, the other 90% will just consume the food,” says the entrepreneur. The challenge was to get people to write reviews, to make Bon App a community. Reviewers want to help other people by sharing their opinions, but they’re also happy to brag about the restaurants they’ve been to. “Food just brings the best part out of everyone in a community.”

The decision was tough. Take out all the noise.” A 3-star rating just doesn’t give enough information, it doesn’t provide reasons to go or not to a restaurant; either you like it or not.
— Stone Shi

To star or not to star. Stone eliminated the original five-star reviewing system from his app and replaced it for a like or dislike, thumbs up or down button. “The decision was tough. Take out all the noise.” A 3-star rating just doesn’t give enough information, it doesn’t provide reasons to go or not to a restaurant; either you like it or not.  

One of the most interesting features presented by Bon App is the ability to create and share lists: The cheapest restaurants to go on a date; the best restaurants for locals; restaurants you must visit when traveling to Shanghai; or the best bars for ex-pats. The lists have been a clever way to get people engaged empowering them to share their favorite spots.

It’s not over. With China’s diverse gastronomic tradition, and the growing influence from the outside, the country has become food heaven, and Chinese people have turned into some of the most engaging foodies the world has ever seen. With mobile technology, and food-based communities, competition in the restaurant business is fiercest than ever, and only the best will thrive. Do you want to know which are the best restaurants in town? Just pull out your phone. 

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Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer