The Centipede

Cultural Section: Exploring South Korea’s Delivery Culture

Sherri Jo

Yoon Kyoung Kim, Arts Editor

If you ever find yourself wandering the streets of Seoul, South Korea, don’t be surprised when flocks of strangers forcefully hand you flyers advertising their culinary establishments, ranging from fast food chains and snack bars to traditional Korean restaurants. These flyers come in all shapes and colors and can be found on almost any surface. Many if not all restaurants in Korea offer delivery service; they will deliver food of all kinds to your front porch in less than 30 minutes whether it’s 3AM in the morning or you’re sitting on a bench in the middle of a park. This extensive food delivery culture is dubbed by many visitors as a uniquely Korean experience.

According to experts, food delivery culture in Korea is growing rapidly due to extreme changes in family structure, social participation of women, and increase in demands of single-person households and the elderly. With many of the demographic opting to live alone instead of in the traditional family settings, the delivery business exploded given that most prefer not to cook large meals.

Food delivery culture continues to flourish not only because of the socio-demographic changes in Korean society but also because delivery services are becoming increasingly convenient. Just five years ago, people relied on flyers and online restaurant databases to place their orders. Now, customers need only to open a mobile application in order to access an extensive network of restaurants that cater to all tastes and preferences. Just choose a dish from the menu, a location, and pay with a pre-registered credit card. The range of information available on delivery apps is astonishingly comprehensive; they show detailed menus with explanations, ratings, and reviews. One may filter restaurants according to proximity, cuisine, franchises, and so on. Customers can also accumulate user points for every delivery requested on the app which they can convert into credit for future orders.

In addition to providing customers with prime convenience, delivery app companies financially benefit the restaurants they service. With virtually every business within the culinary industry offering delivery service, it is difficult for small restaurants that cannot afford to pay for marketing or a deliveryman to survive the delivery epidemic. Apart from their advertising and promotion mechanism, delivery app companies, with their own supply of delivery men, are also functioning as delivery agencies.

Because food delivery is so accessible, it has profoundly influenced Korean food culture. One such case is the sensational popularity of fried chicken and beer, a dish affectionately dubbed as chi-maek or chinunim. As a nationally recognized comfort food, chi-maek is ubiquitously enjoyed in all walks of life. You can easily spot tables of office workers enjoying the luxury of chi-maek on weeknights. Thousands flock to enjoy chi-maek with their friends, families, and sometimes even strangers on the Han River waterfronts. During the Olympics or the World Cup, fried chicken restaurants are overwhelmed with a deluge of orders. More than just a handily orderable dish, chi-maek has seemingly become a social activity in and of itself.

Although delivery culture has become an integral element of modern Korean culture, it is not without its drawbacks. Most restaurants in Korea deliver food to their customers through delivery men who ride motorcycles. Due to the obsession over promptness in delivery, these delivery men can be easily spotted speeding on sidewalks, often without helmets. As much as Koreans appreciate the promptness of their delivery service, the safety of these riders and those of the pedestrians that they may endanger .

In addition, Some delivery apps charge restaurants up to 20 percent of the sales prices for commission, which is deeply detrimental to the small business owners. Despite the loss in sales, restaurants are still forced to use delivery apps for advertisement. Fortunately, most delivery apps are switching to 0 percent commissions, benefiting both the restaurant owners and customers alike.

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Cultural Section: Exploring South Korea’s Delivery Culture