Doing business with the Chinese? If so, then it’s more than likely that food will be involved at some point!
Food, dining out and business banquets are all integral to Chinese relationship building and getting business done.
That’s why it’s so important to get to grips with some basics of Chinese dining etiquette to help you make the best impression possible.
In this vein, we present to you our quick-fire guide to the 5 most important things we think foreigners need to know before their travels to China.
1. Water Bowl
Before any meal it’s customary for the waiting staff to place a bowl of warm water on the table for each diner.
Whatever you do, don’t drink it! It's not some sort of soup!
This is for washing your fingers, or in some places, for washing your utensils. It’s not that they are dirty, it’s simply a custom that has been passed down through the generations.
2. Two Finger Table Tap
When in a restaurant, you may notice diners tapping the table with two fingers after being poured a drink or given some food by the waiting staff.
This means “thank you”.
Apparently this dates back to the Qing dynasty when one of its Emperors toured the country in disguise. At a tea house, in order to show he was a normal person, he poured his servants each a tea. They could not bow to say thank you (as it would give his identity away), so they came up with the finger bow!
Cool story, no?
All Chinese food is designed to be eaten with chopsticks, however there are some of rules over how to use your chopsticks.
For example, when taking a break from eating, you must lay your chopsticks flat on the table or in a chopstick holder. Never rest them on your bowl or sticking out of it, or the food.
Similarly, never cross your chopsticks to make an X shape as this has strong connotations around death.
Chinese society is hierarchical, and this extends to the dining table too.
Always make sure the eldest or most senior person present is served first and eats first. In some situations other diners may wait until invited to begin.
The most senior person should always be honoured in some way through words or gestures.
5. Paying the Bill
Splitting the bill is not the done thing in China.
Chinese culture is a face culture, so paying the bill is a means of gaining face and enhancing your reputation as being kind, generous and hospitable.
It’s common to see friendly arguments at the end of meals as to who pays.
Doing business in China or working with the Chinese? Make an excellent impression by enrolling on our eLearning Online China Cultural Training Programme.
Here's a peek....
Looking for reading materials instead?
Our China Culture Guide gives you some basic cultural insights into China including a section on dining and food.
Our China Country Report offers a detailed and comprehensive overview of the country with in-depth information about history, politics, cultural values, business practices, cultural differences and useful resources.
For more details contact our Cultural Training Team.