Return to sender: why food delivery in Hong Kong sucks

Probably better than Hong Kong food delivery

One of the many reasons I love living in Hong Kong is the food. Eating out can often work out cheaper (and a hell of a lot easier) than cooking for yourself and Hong Kong offers such a wealth of dining destinations, for all types of cuisines and price ranges, that you really are spoilt for choice – as I hope the food reviews on my blog show! However, one of the very few areas where HK gets it so so wrong is delivery.

Delivery is, of course, one of the very few areas in which the UK gets it so so right. Cheaper, quicker and more convenient than eating out – especially if you’re nowhere near a major town – you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Blighty that hasn’t had pizzas delivered (oh Dominoes, how I miss thee) or enjoyed a Chinese or Indian takeaway in their time.

In Hong Kong, the main decent delivery service is that of ‘man on foot from your local chaa chaan teng’. If you’re near enough for a waiter to hoof it round yours, most local places will offer delivery to your front door quickly, cheaply, efficiently and generally without a service charge. Similarly, one of Hong Kong’s defining sights is seeing McDonalds couriers zipping through the streets (or sitting with their bags on the MTR!) – like rats, you’re probably never more than six feet away from the Golden Arches in this city – so their delivery is speedy and the food is still hot when it arrives. Aside from these honourable exceptions though, be prepared for a disastrous experience nearly everywhere else.

Pizzas are a takeaway staple, especially if you’ve got friends round – with the size of most HK kitchens, you’d be lucky to have an oven at all, never mind one that you can fit family-sized pizzas into. Frankly, I wouldn’t touch Pizza Hut here in a restaurant, let alone outside of one (here’s why) so that leaves Pizza Box – HK’s premiere pizza delivery service. If Dominoes made you wait an hour only to deliver lukewarm food, they’d be out if business in the UK; in HK, Pizza Box is actually one of the better services.

Most restaurants sub-contract out their delivery division to specialised firms, like Dial-A-Dinner and Cuisine Courier. The term specialist implies some sort of expertise. I’m lucky to live practically in the middle of the MTR HK Island line, meaning I shouldn’t really ever be more than 30 minutes away from most other Island destinations on the MTR, let alone if you’ve got the luxury of a motorcycle. And yet somehow delivery men regularly contrive waiting times of 90 minutes! Once when we were eating at a restaurant, we saw a courier arrive only to have a ten-minute natter with waiters whilst a pizza rapidly cooled on the counter. Perhaps that explains things.

When it does show up, it’s delivered by drivers who seem to display no sense of urgency whatsoever – watching from my balcony, we’ve seen them meander up my road being overtaken by passing snails. The food arrives, it’s stone cold (half the time, it doesn’t seem to have had any contact with the insulated delivery bags designed especially for this purpose) and the delivery guy hangs round by your door, shooting surly looks because you’ve not deigned to offer a tip for this amazing experience, although you’ve already paid a 10% delivery charge for the pleasure. Frequently, they’ll claim they don’t have any change; if this is the case, the delivery firm should explicitly state this – I remember Dominoes drivers in the UK actually used to telephone to say they didn’t carry more than £20 in change. I was once delivered pasta in a box without a lid.

However, the straw that broke the diner’s back was my recent experience with Subway. Subway used to be one of the better places to order from – they seemed to have their own delivery staff and as such, you got through to someone who knew Subway’s menu inside out rather than someone who has about fifty restaurants on their books and thus know practically nothing about any of them. Food would arrive within an hour and was edible. That’s about all you can hope for with delivery here. Alas, it seems they’ve gone the way of the dark side and employed Cuisine Courier. Big mistake.

[It seem there are two websites and delivery hotlines for Subway. One at http://www.sandwiches.hk, which is presumbly what we used in the past, and one at http://www.subway.hk, which we mistakenly stumbled upon this time.]

When we ordered, we hadn’t realised this, so admittedly did not have order codes (although this hasn’t posed a problem in ordering before). My boyfriend detailed first his sandwich and asked to make it a meal with chips and a coke. Telephone lady confirmed. Then my sub, asking to make this a meal as well, with cookies and a Snapple. Telephone lady confirmed again but couldn’t find Snapple so hung up to find it, then called us back. All seemed well.

Around 80 minutes later and still no sign of the food, my boyfriend gave them a call. ‘Are you Mr George?’ ‘No.’ ‘We’ve been trying to get hold of him but we can’t get through.’ ‘But that’s not me.’ ‘Is it about a Subway order?’ ‘Yes, but I’m not Mr George.’ ‘Well, we’ve been trying to contact him…’ ‘Yeah but that’s NOT me!’ Bizarre. But to her credit, she quickly called our driver, who claimed he was 3 minutes away. This was correct – and it’s pretty much the last time they’ll be correct about anything in this story.

The food came to $235. As regular Subway customers, this seemed way off but I saw little point questioning the driver – there’s not much he can do about it from this end, and after approximately 90 minutes, hunger got the best of me. So I paid up (with exact change = driver stink eye)… where to begin?

Firstly, the sandwiches were not just cold but soaking wet, as if the delivery guy had actively offered our food to the rain gods (there was a light drizzle). As such, although cold sandwiches are fine, soggy ones really aren’t so I stuck them in the toaster, adding a further wait time (after an hour and a half, what’s an extra 15 minutes, eh? And yes, they were that wet, they needed 15 minutes)

The invoice stated a delivery time of 15:54 (30 minutes after ‘Pick Up Time’ despite being from somewhere on the Island) yet our friend managed to arrive at about 16:39, a full HOUR after being picked up. Guys, I can get to the New Territories in under an hour! A carrier pigeon would have probably done the job better and quicker and at least they wouldn’t shoot daggers when you don’t tip. This is made all the more laughable by the fact that a few weeks ago, we accidentally ordered a takeaway from Olympic – that’s across the seas and through a tunnel in Kowloon – that arrived quicker and hotter.

Chips? Nowhere to be found. Cookies? Them neither. Instead, there was a tub of Haagen Daaz ice-cream. I checked the invoice, where neither of our subs had been made into meals, hence meaning we had been overcharged to the tune of roughly $70, and that’s without all the components of the meal actually showing up. If telephone lady had not understood the repeated ‘make it into a meal’ instruction (we later checked Subway’s menu online and it’s clearly there as an order code), why had she kept on agreeing with my boyfriend saying ‘Can we make that a meal? It’s a meal right?’ about three times? Did she think this was a strange sort of vocal tic or something?

I’d also been charged an extra $15 for making my sub ‘Double Meat’ (I don’t even know what that is). Rather than giving us Coke and Snapple from the Subway menu (costing $8 and $18 respectively), they had sent us some ***From Cuisine Courier***, hence costing an extra sixteen bucks ($14 and $28). Meanwhile, the invoice reckoned that the unwanted $35 tub of Haagen Daaz (also ***From Cuisine Courier***) was Cookies & Chocolate flavour (hence explaining the absence of the cookies I suppose), yet we were sitting with Belgian Chocolate instead. I think this sums up the entire experience.

Yes, getting food delivered is a bit lazy but there were valid reasons behind it and, for being a little bit lazy, do we really deserve to be overcharged for soppy food which isn’t even the food we ordered? So order for delivery in HK at your peril… and it won’t be Subway on the menu at ours for a very long time.

EDIT: I actually complained directly to Subway about this, including the above pictures and receipts as proof plus a photo of our sandwiches in a soaking wet bag. After checking my claims, they confirmed we had been overcharged and offered us some money off our next order… if we ordered through Cuisine Courier. Needless to say, we have not taken them up on this offer.]

[Banner photo from hellothomas’ Flickr]

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5 responses to “Return to sender: why food delivery in Hong Kong sucks

  1. You, Rach, have got the whole situation down pat. Super excellent exposition. The cheque is being couriered to you right now.

    • Haha thank you! This post has been sitting in my drafts for some reason for the past year… finally remembered to actually hit publish!

      PS Nice to see you back… hope all the make-up hasn’t been scaring you away 😛

  2. How awful! But I love reading about this snippet of daily life from someone who lives in HK. Delivery in Japan sucks in the sense that it is so expensive for very little food (Japanese portions) and it also takes at least an hour for food to arrive. It arrives piping hot but it’s around USD$90 for delivery for two (e.g. two tiny pad thais and one serve of fresh spring rolls). No tip is expected but it’s only under extreme circumstances I would order delivery in Tokyo, like when I moved house and we had no food and were too exhausted to hike out to get food. Clothes were also in boxes.

    • Interesting! Isn’t eating out fairly expensive in Japan generally? I remember that’s what my friends have told me but I’ve never been myself!

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