After Le Lu decided to stay on campus for spring quarter instead of going back to China in light of UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) decision to host spring quarter classes online, ordering delivered Chinese food became a relatively easy way to remind her of home. For Chinese international students like Lu, food delivery sources are a way of creating connections between people and culture, something especially important in the midst of COVID-19.
Le Lu is a first-year student majoring in chemistry. Just like other international Chinese students, she missed homemade Chinese food a lot when she first arrived on campus. In early October 2019, Lu first discovered that there were large groups of Chinese students that craved authentic Chinese food. Some Chinese restaurants in the Goleta and Santa Barbara area have created online WeChat groups to meet these demands.
Smaller WeChat delivery groups have 200 to 300 students, and the larger groups have approximately 500 students. “Using WeChat to order is much more convenient and faster than some of the local food delivery applications,” Lu said in an interview with The Bottom Line.
Food delivery in the time of COVID-19 has changed substantially, which has forced these independent food delivery groups to alter their services accordingly. “The main difference before and after the pandemic is that we prefer to have the food delivered to the door instead of meeting up with students,” the owner of Love Bento explained in an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL).
There seemed to be little difficulty when it came to starting this service. In addition, restaurants try to change their menu every day, which allows students to order from a wider range of food choices. Another major adjustment to take into consideration is that many Chinese students have chosen to return to China, since the beginning of the quarter, which means that there are fewer orders than before. New COVID-19-related challenges, including time management and food portioning, take additional estimations.
The owner of Love Bento also shared that they currently have two WeChat groups, including 784 members in total. Additionally, there are six food delivery groups on WeChat, which brings a total of 2,800 members. These groups are the only channel the owner uses to promote her restaurant as of now.
Ranbing Qu, another Chinese first-year student majoring in economics, also joined several WeChat delivery groups in the past year. For Qu and her friends, the order process requires three simple steps. “First, we choose the food we like; then, we pay the money. The final step is to go downstairs after receiving the phone call from the delivery guy, ” Lu explained. Some restaurants may post pictures of food online, which helps Chinese students explore the type of Chinese food they would like to order.
Coco King, a Chinese restaurant located near UCLA’s main campus, delivers Chinese bento boxes to Santa Barbara daily, from Monday to Friday. In an interview with TBL, Coco King owner Raymond Chen said, “We started delivering in Santa Barbara in 2015, pre-orders only at that time. As the business expanded, we have hired more employees, drivers, and added more dishes to our menu to meet students’ needs.”
According to the Chinese restaurant Love Bento, many international students can only travel by bus, instead of by car, which is why many Chinese restaurants decided to have the food delivered to UCSB student housing and to students located in Goleta or Isla Vista.
However, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, other international students have rejected the idea of Chinese food delivery services. Hanyu Bi, a first-year physics major student, commented to TBL that “the taste of our school dining’s food is okay for me. Also, it’s not so hard for me to stay full, which is the only wish in this special period of time.”
When told about the food delivery service, Percy Liu, a first-year student majoring in economics, took a more optimistic view. “It is a great chance for me to try something new. I may try the delivered good someday as a good way of setting connections with Chinese foods. ”
“These Chinese restaurants formed their particular way of hiring and training drivers, who deliver the food faster and more safe than UberEats drivers,” Qu explained. Ordering delivered food through WeChat groups is now widely accepted by most Chinese students, yet it may also impact a wider group of students in the future.