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Dining out and entertaining in China

Dining is considered an important aspect of establishing and building business relations.

In Hong Kong most entertaining is done in restaurants because Chinese homes are often small, crowded units. Mainland Chinese however like to invite guests to their home, considering it an honour.

It is not customary for your partner, or your Chinese counterpart’s partner, to be invited to a business dinner.
 
Seating etiquette requires you to wait for your host to gesture where you are to sit.

If you are the guest of honour for any occasion, business or personal, in a restaurant you can expect to be seated in the middle of the table, facing the door. Your host will sit next to you. Others will be seated in descending order, based on hierarchy.

When you host a meal, be sure to offer the centre seat to your most senior guest.

Your host will invite you to begin each course – until then you should leave your food and drink untouched.

The main beverage drunk during business meetings is beer. Also served are maotai or white wine and traditional Chinese spirits.

Western wines and soft drinks could also be available.

Three glasses usually sit on the table – the largest should be used for your first choice of beverage, the middle-sized glass is for wine and the smaller one is for shots of mgotai, or sorghum liquor.

As a guest you could expect your host to propose a toast either after the first of several courses has arrived, or at the end of the first course. Then toasts will be proposed throughout the meal. You should toast your Chinese host or guest often. "Ganbei" means "Cheers!"

Chinese are not generally enthusiastic about Western food and they prefer a sit-down meal to cocktail parties or buffets.

You may be served one dish for every person at the table, placed on a revolving tray in the centre of the table.

Good etiquette requires that you eat a little of everything, even if you don’t care for it.

Don't be afraid to decline alcohol politely and firmly. Once you begin to drink you are obliged to continue. This also applies if you accept a toast – you are expected to drink the whole tumbler.

You will be expected to use chopsticks proficiently. When not using chopsticks place them on the rest provided.

The ritual yum cha means “drinking tea” and is enjoyed socially.

The meal is customarily coming to an end when fruit is offered and/or hot towels are served. Your host will not initiate the end to a gathering until his guest(s) are preparing to depart.

You would be expected to tip at the end of a meal. Giving a handful of change, rather than a percentage of the bill is quite acceptable.

When dining in a Chinese home

Chinese enjoy entertaining in their homes. When visiting:

  • arrive on time, not early
  • be prepared to remove your shoes at the door
  • bring a gift for the host
  • don't touch mirrors, ornaments, statues etc. as they may have significant religious meaning
  • wait until you are invited before sitting down – customarily you will sit to the left of your host.

For further information, please contact Sara Cheng, Manager – Greater China Region.  

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Sara Cheng
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