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Chinese Dining Etiquette

Shanghai Chinese Dining Etiquette

When you take a break from eating, always set your chopsticks on the chopstick rest, not on the plate or bowl and certainly not sticking up in your rice dish.

If you’re going to be dining out with business associates while in Shanghai, it’s important to take note of Chinese table manners before you go. Your first step should be learning to use chopsticks. Practice before you arrive in Shanghai if you anticipate business dinners.

Unlike Americans, the Chinese do not like to conduct business at meals. Meals are seen as a way to develop relationships and learn more about those that you are doing business with or wishing to do business with. However, this does not mean that your behavior at dinner will not be reflected in business choices outside of the meal. You should do your best to make a good impression.

Formal business dinners are usually held in private rooms with round tables. The host is usually the highest ranking person and will sit facing the entrance with the guest of honor sitting next to the host. The rest of the dinner party sits in descending rank on the right and left sides of the host and guest of honor. If you aren’t sure which door is the entrance, the host’s spot will usually have a unique setting such as a folded napkin or a plate to distinguish his/her place. Always allow your host to tell you where you should sit.

The host will order food for the table and it is considered rude to make any special requests. When the food comes, the host will usually begin the meal by eating first or by allowing the guest of honor to eat first. Wait until the host has done one of these things before you take your food, and never end the meal yourself. If your host serves you, feel free to reciprocate by serving the host. Under no circumstances should the guest end the meal, always wait for your host to indicate that the meal is over after all courses have been served.

Make sure that you try everything that is served and offer compliments for local or specialty dishes. If you have a food allergy, explain that you are not eating a particular item because of the allergy, not because of a distaste for the food. You don’t need to eat everything on your plate; in fact you shouldn’t because it shows that you are still hungry. If you don’t like something you try, just push it to the side. Additionally, there will be so much food available that if you do eat everything on your plate, you will end up uncomfortably full. You should also never eat the last piece of food from the serving tray as it indicates hunger like an empty plate.

Chinese meals have many courses and will take a long time, so remember to eat slowly or to take breaks to talk and listen to the host. When you take a break from eating, always set your chopsticks on the chopstick rest, not on the plate or bowl and certainly not sticking up in your rice dish.

If your host or a member of the host party serves you tea or any other drink, you can thank them by tapping the first knuckle of your hand on the table as they are serving you. It is a symbolic gesture that mimics kneeling and shows respect and appreciation. You may also feel free to fill up others’ cups, though it is likely that the host will move the teapot out of your reach.

Chinese dinners will often include a lot of toasting. At the beginning of a formal dinner, the host will make an introductory toast for the guest of honor—if that is you be prepared to return with a brief speech and a toast. Be aware of how high you raise your glass in relationship to your host’s glass; you always want to be below the host’s glass to show respect. After all the courses have been served, the guest of honor should thank the host on behalf of the guests. If you cannot keep up with the toasting, don’t drain your glass because it will quickly be filled up again. Return the toast and take a sip. This is another good reason for leaving the shop talk out of dinner.

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