Locals and foreigners alike will spend hours sounding the praise of WeChat and preaching the pros of Taobao, but one app seldom mentioned despite its insane functionality is Da Zhong Dian Ping.
If WeChat is WhatsApp on steroids, Dianping might be the same for TripAdvisor. At first glance it seems like your run-of-the-mill ratings and reviews app (note the literal translation of the name ‘comments of the masses’) but Dianping offers so much more – from booking tourist attractions to buying cinema tickets to finding ridiculous dining discounts, its functions outweigh those of any non-Chinese app in the field. If this is your first time using the app, you’ll likely want to set up an account –you’ll just need a Chinese phone number to do this. WeChat pay can be used for in-app purchases.
Here’s a look at the app’s homepage.
Choose your city on the top left (1) – automatic if GPS permissions are enabled. Listings are city-specific, so you’ll need to change this if you’re traveling.
Next to this is a search bar (2), where (using both Chinese and English, but usually the former) we can find just about anything.
The icons (3) represent different categories of business – some are easy to guess from the pictures for non-Chinese readers.
Underneath that (4) we have deals, offers and snapshots of what’s going on.
And at the bottom of the page (5) are the app’s 4 main areas – home, goods, following and my account.
Let’s start by trying the search function. While some businesses have roman-character names listed, the majority are in Chinese only, so for non-Chinese speakers copy and paste the characters you need from another app.
You can search by the exact name of a business, you can do a general search for something you are looking for (fried chicken, farmer’s market, art store) and if you search by certain characteristics you might get results too (try searching 露台 (‘terrace’) for bars and restaurants with outdoor seating areas).
Here’s an example of a search for 咖啡厅 (café).
We can further filter by what we are looking for (1) (2) (3) – price, location, type of business, etc.
There are a few quick filters (3) related to our search – the first few displayed here are ‘internet café’, ‘handmade coffee’ and ‘bookstore café’.
Then we have our results (4). You can see the name, rating, location/distance and some comments about the place.
Finally, look to the little map icon (5) to see the results geographically.
If I don’t want to search, or maybe I’m not sure what I want, I can use the icons we saw in that first screenshot to browse.
I clicked on the first icon ‘food’. You can see (1) I have put filters down for location 三里屯 (Sanlitun) and cuisine 烤肉 (barbecue). You can filter based on neighbourhoods, subway stations and distance from current location. You can choose from a huge variety of cuisines, or leave it blank if you’re not sure what you fancy.
Just like when we used the search function, we can also see the results against a map (2).
Here’s what we see when we click on the first result on the list.
The buttons at the top (1) let us ‘star’ (save to a favourites list) or share the listing – useful for sending to friends on WeChat.
All the useful information about the business follows (2)(3). Name, rating, average price, etc. We can check opening hours and the exact location (3) – click on either for more details.
The little kangaroo (4) tells us that this business offers delivery – click this and start ordering coffee, just like using the Meituan delivery app.
And the options below (5) allow us to jump to different useful parts of the listing – discounts, dishes, reviews and other recommendations.
One feature I absolutely love about this app is the discounts.
While some of these are the same as what you would be offered as any walk-in customer, some are specials for Dianping users and need to be purchased using the app before you pay the bill. The app will generate a QR code for the deal which your fuwuyuan can then scan. If you find yourself in a new eatery, it’s often worth checking the Dianping listing for discounts before you pay – you might get lucky and find your croissant is half price today.
Another really useful feature is the image gallery.
You can filter by 4 options – all, environment, food and (my personal favourite) price list. Here we can see pictures of anything with text – notably the menu and customers’ receipts. Great if you need to check for vegetarian options, get an idea of how much you are going to spend or just salivate over tonight’s dinner options.
Other Types of Business
This guide has been largely restaurant-focused so far, but we can use the app to find just about any type of business. Here is the page for Chaoyang Park, I can click the orange button to buy tickets – I just need to scan my QR code on the gate. For this particular park I can also purchase kayak and paddle board hire.
I can plan travel and book hotel rooms, just click on the homepage icon 酒店/门票 and filter by date and location.
I can book cinema or theatre tickets by clicking the 电影/演出 icon – this launches 猫眼电影 (Maoyan Dianying), the movie-ticketing service. You can also watch movie trailers, check showing times and pre-order your popcorn.
I’ve found some of the best discounts are on health and beauty options, such as spa packages, manicures and acupuncture – which can also be booked through the app.
It would take a guide a hundred times this size to go through every feature, but hopefully this gives you a general idea of what the app is used for and why I love it. Go away and try it for yourself.