Chinese Table Manners - Do's and Don'ts
The Chinese have developed an exquisite cuisine and regard food as being the most important thing in their life. They do not greet each other with “How are you?” but instead they ask, “Have you eaten?”
As part of Chinese culinary culture, Chinese table manners are still observed today.
The seat that is given to the “guest of honor” or the oldest person in the family gives the best view of the room. The “seat of honor” is usually the one facing the entrance of the room or the one in the center facing east of the room, if there is no seat facing the entrance.
The next rule that governs the seating plan is linked with the “social ranking” of a person. This rule will be applied even if the dinner is of family get-together. That is, the person with higher rank gets a closer seat to the “guest of honor”.
As for the host, he may take the least prominent seat, usually the one nearest the kitchen or service door. It is better to be seated after the senior or the guest of honor sit down. Guests should wait for the host to invite them to get seated.
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Ordering and Serving
If time permits, the menu can be circulated among the people in attendance and the host will make the final decision. But whether the dishes are ordered by the host or the guests, here are some basic rules that require attention:
- Ask everyone’s opinions: vegetarians, religious taboos, food allergies, or favorite food.
- Prioritize the local specialty dishes: Roast Duck in Beijing, Braised “Lion’s Head” Meatballs in Shanghai, Dim Sum in Guangzhou, Beer Fish in Guilin …
- Balance the portion of meat dishes and vegetable dishes and try to avoid ordering food that needs to be handled by hand, like crabs and snails.
Chinese people like sharing food together and all the dishes are usually placed in the center of a round table with a Lazy Susan, rather than a rectangular table like in the West. A Lazy Susan is a round rotating disc in the center of the dining table, that ensures all the diners have equal accessibility to the served meal and to make everybody feel respected.
During the meal, it should be considered that you are not rotating the Lazy Susan for yourself when someone else on the table is serving himself from the main bowl. It is recommended to wait until he gets a sufficient quantity of the dish.
Wait until the dish takes a complete round when you want to have something a second time so that everyone gets his due share. Also, never fill your plate to the maximum, and always serve yourself with a small quantity. Rotating the Lazy Susan counterclockwise is yet another bad habit that should be avoided.
Despite the facility of the Lazy Susan, it is expected of the host to offer the special dish to all the members present before he takes a share for himself, using a pair of serving or “public” chopsticks of course, which is a simple gesture of showing concern and respect for others. Guests can politely decline or leave the food on the plate if they don’t want to eat something.
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The use of chopsticks is a must in Chinese cuisine, accompanying with some always taboos that you must have an at least basic idea:
Other Dos and Don’ts When Dining:
- 1. Start eating after the host gives a sign to start eating.
- 2. It is incumbent upon the host to urge the guests to eat and drink their fill, which means ordering more food than necessary and keeping an eye out for idle chopsticks.
- 3. Pick up the bowl of rice and lift the rice into your mouth with the chopsticks. Do not make any noise when chewing the food.
- 4. The spoon should not be used at the same time as the chopsticks.
- 5. Leave bones on a plate or napkin with your chopsticks
- 6. Concentrate on the meal and people in attendance. It is considered ill-mannered to fiddle with your phone during dining.
- 7. Toothpicks should not be used during the meal but rather at the end, and always whilst covering the mouth.
- 8. Tipping is not customary in China.
In China, at the beginning of a banquet or a formal dinner, the host must first toast to the guests to show his hospitality. Wine, beer, or even soda can be used to toast.
If you wish to take a drink of wine at a formal dinner, you must first toast another dinner guest regardless of whether he or she responds by drinking. If you are toasted and don’t want to drink, simply touch your lips to the edge of the wine glass to acknowledge the courtesy.
Normally, your glass will be refilled immediately following a toast in preparation for the next one. So… Good luck!
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Tea always plays an important role at a Chinese dinner. It is usually served by a waiter or waitress as soon as you have a seat in a restaurant.
Whenever tea is served you should say “thank you” or make a gesture of thanks – tap the table with your first two fingers twice. The host should naturally refill the empty teacups and never point the mouth of the teapot to others.
Chinese banquets commonly last for about two hours, but the dinner is over when the host stands up and offers the final toast. Then you should immediately leave after expressing your thanks to the host for his hospitality. In some cases, you can invite the host to your own future banquet.
If you want to leave in the middle of the banquet, explain the reason to your host and appreciate his hospitality. Remember: do not invite other guests to leave with you, otherwise, the banquet will be over in advance.
These etiquette rules also apply to normal Chinese meals in restaurants.
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