Sunday, March 18, 2007

I Want Delivery!

I really like my Shenzhen apartment. It is nice, clean and just the right size for me. It has all of the appliances and furniture that I need and even a nice sized gym on the 5th floor (I live on the 27th). It is a 10 min walk to the pedestrian-only shopping area (老街) and the bus to work stops immediately outside the building. Oh yea, I almost forgot… check out the view.

My only complaint about my apartment is the lack of restaurants downstairs. There are a couple of mom & pop noodle places but that’s about it. To get any selection of restaurants, I need to walk at least 5-7 minutes away. Most of the time, a 5 min walk in China isn’t a big deal. However, when I’m hung over and don't want to get out of bed (like most Sundays), I just want something, anything.

Solution: Delivery.

Before living here in China, I had thought that delivery did not exist here. I have a lot of family who live in Beijing, Harbin and Shanghai. I have never seen any of them order delivery and/or even have delivery menus. I was pleasantly surprised that it at least exists in Shenzhen. Because labor is so cheap here, many restaurants have a couple of people specifically for delivery purposes in the neighborhood. Although I don't imagine it to be Justin-Timberlake-popular, like it is around the Columbia University campus (oh how I miss eating Chinese Wai Lee) it is still most definitely needed.

Every couple of days when I’m walking in and out of my building, I see delivery people bringing food in. As a relatively new resident, without any knowledge of which restaurants deliver, I make an effort to talk to these delivery people and get a menu from them. What’s interesting is that after talking to delivery people on more than 40 different occasions, I have only obtained 1 menu.

Only 1. That’s it.

What are these people doing not carrying menus around when they’re fulfilling an order? I don't understand it. In a selfish sense, I want the added convenience to get some food without getting out of the apartment. But from a business perspective, how can these restaurants not require these people to carry tons of menus on them. This would not only be a good way to market their restaurant, but it would give the non-cooking population somewhere to order from.

Above all, how has any restaurant owners recognized that no one else is doing it and they can almost corner neighborhood market for delivery? My neighborhood has 4 buildings, 26 residential floors in each building and 12 apartments on each floor. Assuming that there are 2 people living in each apartment (a low estimate) the total number of people is 2500 in this building complex alone. Combine the 5 other complexes around me together, and it’s a sizable customer base for a small restaurant.

As a veteran of Columbia University fast food, I can only describe the competition for take-out as a war.

Here are the details:

  • Basically all of the restaurants post on online menu websites like,, so that people can have quick access to their menus.
  • Some places even list on services like where the order can be made directly online, quickly and easily.
  • Restaurants advertise on billboards, newspapers, ect.
  • Every order has at least 1 menu in the delivery package.
  • Some restaurants even use their menu as an invoice/bill for the customer with the ordered items highlighted.
  • All delivery people have menus with them at all times. They place these everywhere, especially at the outside door to an apartment building.
  • Rivalries and aggressive tactics were used by the 3 local Chinese delivery places. Every time one place made a delivery to a dorm building, they would take all of the other 2 restaurants’ menus and replace them with their own. Talk about cutthroat.

All of these practices in Columbia University and NYC in general are geared to maximize the exposure of the restaurant in a competitive landscape as well as make it convenient for the consumer to order delivery. This is life in a mature marketing environment.

Now if only any Chinese companies can take a hint and figure stuff out, I might be able to order from them instead of going to McDonald’s.


Caliboy said...

There's delivery in Shanghai as well. But just like in Shenzhen, there is no such thing as a delivery menu. That used to drive me up the wall when I lived there, especially having lived in New York where I had a whole box full of delivery menus to choose from when I was too lazy to leave my apartment.

Hopefully a commenter will have an explanation. Are the margins so thin that the extra few kuai to print menus is too much for these restaurants to handle?

Mike said...

haha. i'm glad that its not just me. that would be annoying. I don't think they even have delivery in Beijing.

I'll address the reasons why this is in a later blog this week.

Be sure to check it out

Caliboy said...

I'm still patiently waiting to hear your analysis on the lack of food delivery....


Mike said...

thats my bad. I totally forgot about it.

chris butt said...