Internet & Tech

The hunger games

Meituan’s new Chinese restaurant rating service takes on Michelin Guide


Ctrip’s older rival: Gourmet List

Tired of following recommendations about Chinese food made by a French car tyre firm? Meituan-Dianping’s Black Pearl Restaurant Guide could be for you. Last month the Chinese food delivery and group-buying firm published the first of what will be an annual series of restaurant rankings, highlighting the best of Chinese cuisine globally.

Its inaugural edition earmarked a total of 330 restaurants in 27 cities in China as well as around the world, including popular destinations for Chinese tourists such as Paris and Tokyo. The guide has been widely seen as China’s answer to global restaurant rankers such as the Michelin Guide and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List.

The similarities are striking: like the Michelin Guide, which awards restaurants with its highly coveted but equally elusive Michelin stars, restaurants in Meituan-Dianping’s Black Pearl Guide are awarded with one to three diamonds. One diamond is given to restaurants that are ‘great for family and friends gatherings’, two for venues that are ‘perfect for special occasions’, and three for dining destinations that one ‘must visit once in a lifetime’.

Only 28 restaurants were awarded three diamonds, including Fu He Hui in Shanghai and Paul Pairet’s Ultraviolet, both of which are also feted in the Michelin Guide and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Black Pearl rankings are determined by a team of critics that comprises prominent chefs, as well as culinary experts in China’s restaurant industry and frequent diners identified through data mined from Meituan-Dianping’s dining and lifestyle services. But while Michelin has been largely criticised for favouring French and Japanese restaurants in its assessments in Asia, Meituan’s offering specifically celebrates Chinese cuisine, as part of its professed aim to showcase China’s diverse culinary traditions.

The company has also inked a partnership with Apple to embed diamond-rated restaurants into Apple Maps. Users can call up nearby restaurants by typing “Black Pearl Restaurant Guide” in either Chinese or English into their Apple Maps app.

Meituan-Dianping has 250 million users. And they are pretty active: its listings of seven million shops and restaurants across China generated transactions worth Rmb360 billion ($57 billion) in 2017.

A study by the company last year identified China’s restaurant industry as a key driver of domestic economic growth. The dining market grew 11.3% in 2016, almost double the country’s GDP growth.

According to the China Cuisine Association, revenue from the country’s food and beverage industry as a whole grew 10.7% to more than Rmb3.9 trillion in 2017.

With such plump returns, it’s no surprise that other tech titans are jostling for a seat at the table.

Online travel giant Ctrip launched its Ctrip Gourmet List in 2016, providing users with restaurant recommendations and table booking services in China and abroad. The service now has 15,000 restaurants in 120 destinations worldwide, and its usage has seen triple-digit growth since its launch, according to the company.

Ctrip has also signed a partnership with Japanese online booking platform Gurunavi and San Francisco-based OpenTable, which allows gourmet travellers to book restaurants across North America through the Ctrip mobile app.

Alibaba is elbowing its way in, too. Just two days after the release of the Black Pearl Restaurant Guide, Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial announced that it was taking a 20% stake in Hong Kong-based OpenRice, an online reservations app with over 5 million mobile downloads to date and a presence in mainland China, as well as across Southeast Asia and India (see WiC395).

Last but not least the popular car-hailing app Didi may soon enter the fray and offer restaurant-related services too (see WiC396).

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