Good Chinese Dining Etiquette at Restaurants
When eating with Chinese people at a restaurant, dining etiquette is really important. There are some pretty strict rules surrounding Chinese table manners. The most important one is that you eat in a civilised manner and are, at all times, courteous! Remember, China is a country where courtesy is king. Here, we’ll explore some of the basics that should stand you in good stead.
Where and when to sit
Seating arrangements is a really important part of Chinese dining etiquette at a formal dinner or banquet. The most important person at the dinner will occupy the seat of honour. This is usually the seat that faces the entrance to the room or faces east. The person may be the main guest, the eldest person, your teacher, the host or perhaps your boss. Guests of higher status will be seated next to or nearby the main seat. Closest to the entrance are the least prestigious seats. Diners should wait for those of a higher status to sit down first before they themselves sit. As you can see, the seating arrangement is hierarchical!
Preparing to eat
You’ll be served tea as soon as you sit down in a restaurant. Afterwards, the teapot is usually left on the table for guests to serve themselves. It’s good Chinese dining etiquette to pour tea for others.
For hygiene, it’s common practice to rinse bowls, plates and chopsticks before eating. Everyone will wash their own things with the provided hot water or tea and then pour water/tea into a provided bowl.
If it’s a formal occasion, allow your host to make the final decision on what to choose from the menu. However, feel free to chip in with your opinion.
In traditional Chinese dining, the dishes are shared communally. The shape of the table is invariably round, with a Lazy Susan turntable featuring as the centrepiece from which the dishes are served.
Types of food
Unlike most Western countries, in China you will typically expect to be served with many dishes. At a celebration, say a wedding for example, this may amount to ten or more!
The first dishes will be appetizers, such a bowl of crispy fried noodles or salted roasted peanuts. Following the appetizers, you may be served a hot soup, after which the main courses will start to arrive. Popular main course dishes include roasted suckling pig, steamed fish, Peking duck and lobster. Steamed rice or noodles are the staple dishes. This is followed by dessert, which is very often fruit, pudding, sweet soup or steamed buns.
Always let senior people kick off the meal by eating first before you tuck in. This is an important element of Chinese dining etiquette that you must observe! Pick up your bowl when you eat. And when you’re eating in China, consume the rice a little bit at a time along with the other dishes.
Chopsticks may take a little while to get the hang of if you’re used to a knife and fork. Helpfully, Chinese dishes are served in bite-sized pieces, and with a little practice, you’ll soon be using them like a pro.
A useful tip concerning Chinese dining etiquette is to pay full attention to your eating companions. And always be considerate of others. When you’re helping yourself to dishes from the Lazy Susan, take what’s in front of you rather than reaching across.
Absolutely do not stick your chopsticks vertically into your bowl of rice. This is considered very bad luck and bad dining etiquette by Chinese! Don’t scoff your food or slurp your soup. Never speak with your mouth full. Don’t play with your chopsticks or bang them on the side of your bowl. Never point them at people and under no account use your own chopsticks to take rice from the communal bowl. Don’t serve yourself large helpings. Playing about with your phone is deeply frowned upon.
Chinese dining etiquette does not usually require, or indeed, expect you to offer a tip at the end of your meal. If there is a tip, it will be added to your bill.
Other Chinese restaurant dining tips
To help you say the right thing when having a meal with Chinese people in China, check out these useful phrases.