How To Dine In The Orient

After a long and sometimes exhausting day of meetings and negotiations, your Chinese counterpart will most likely invite you to a business dinner or event. Business lunches are becoming more common in China, but the business dinner is the main type of networking event for visitors.

Chinese dining etiquette is full of significant traditions that are easy to oversee and may result in offending your host. One should keep in mind that correct dining etiquette and observance reflects well on your family upbringing and company culture.

Below are some dining do’s and don’ts for any business entertaining you will do in China:

  1. Leave the ordering to the host.
  1. Bring your appetite because you can count on about 10 courses.
  1. For food and tea, always serve from oldest to youngest and yourself last.
    1. The proper way to pour tea is by holding down the lid.
    2. Tap with two fingers as someone is pouring for you to show appreciation.
    3. Pouring for everyone before yourself means you run out of tea a lot. Signal for more by turning over the lid or propping it ajar.
  1. When making toasts, holding your cup with two hands is a sign of respect.
  1. If you’re someone’s plus one, let the person who invited you serve you. If you invited someone, you have to serve him/her.
  1. Meals always begin with a soup.
  1. If serving utensils aren’t provided, use the backend of your chopsticks to serve your food off the serving dish.
  1. NEVER stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice. It’s reminiscent of burning incense upright for the dead, it is really bad luck and super rude.
  1. Chopsticks are used for picking up food, not spearing food.
  1. When it’s your turn, don’t dig around with your chopsticks for the particular pieces you want to eat.
  1. There’s almost always a whole fish. When you’re done with one side, don’t flip the fish. Instead, remove the bone and proceed. This tradition started with fisherman for whom the fish symbolized the boat. And as the word for fish sounds like the word for surplus, it also means capsizing your luck.
  1. When the bill arrives, prepare for battle. ‘Splitting the bill’ doesn’t exist in the Chinese vernacular.
  1. If there aren’t any leftovers, then your host will assume you’re still hungry.
  1. Don’t expect a fortune cookie.

China is steeped in tradition and it would serve you well, as a visiting businessman, to learn all the cultural expectations beforehand.  One does not want to insult a potential partner who holds the key to a huge contract or deal.

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