The combination of rising restaurant prices and the fact that Chinese food is best eaten with others is bringing Shanghai's white-collar workers together for meals via the alphabet soup of electronic connections.
Workers on tight budgets are finding meal mates by logging onto a BBS, leaving a QQ number or MSN address and waiting for replies.
Connecting with strangers for meals is the latest response to Shanghai's rising restaurant prices as the cost of pork and other ingredients goes up. Workers are left with two choices: foot the bill alone or share the price of a meal with others.
Ms Zhang at Shanghai Heng Long Square said the rising food prices had worried her for a long time. In restaurants near her office building, the price of set meals has gone up by 1 to 3 yuan, increasing her monthly meal costs by several dozen yuan.
"Eating lunch became such a big expenditure that I used to just eat fruit," Zhang said. "But by sharing meals we have solved the problem."
Now co-workers have turned into meal mates.
As meal sharing has become increasingly popular, websites have joined the game. Some have set up BBS where users can find meal mates by posting invitations or answering them. Some BBS divide respondents into groups according to workplace.
Besides offering invitations, some experienced sharers are giving tips. Price-wise suggestions include ordering chicken and seafood instead of pork to avoid soaring prices.
In the age of computer dating, connections for eating partners have also turned social. On pinkecity.com, a Shanghai BBS, postings read: "Friends as meal mates wanted." "Who wants to go to KTV after dinner?" Some users even list their hobbies and background information, looking for eating companions with similar interests.