Chinese Dining Etiquette

by Claire Valenty on February 4, 2011

in International Business Etiquette, Table Manners

table manners chinese etiquette

No, this is not an article about how to properly eat your take away from Panda Express or how to be on your best behavior when visiting your local Chinese restaurant.  Instead, this article will focus on how to best fit the etiquette needs of dining in China, if you are there for business, for example.  Or, if you are invited to your new girlfriend’s home for dinner and her family is very traditional and Chinese; this article will help you impress them with your respect for their culture!

  • Seating – the person of greatest importance takes the seat furthest from the door at the head of the table; the person of least importance takes the seat closest to the door.  If you are the host, you take the seat closest to the path that will allow you easy access to the kitchen, front door to greet latecomers, etc.  If you are a guest and are unsure where to sit, wait, and your host will direct you.
  • Chopsticks – Chinese chopsticks are different to Japanese chopsticks as they are the same size all the way up (Japanese chopsticks taper).  For etiquette rules concerning chopsticks, please see:
  • Ordering – it is always important to order an even number of dishes when dining out, unless you are going out after a funeral, where an odd number is ok.  The head of the table will order for everyone…and everyone will like what they order!

  • Food Placement – if the food has any sort of head (chicken head, pig’s head, etc. – yummy), the head should not be facing any of the guests.  Any soup should be placed in the center of the table and the most important dish (the main course) should be placed in front of the most important person at the table as a sign of respect.  Usually a Lazy Susan is used; this should be turned clockwise.
  • Eating – the most important person at the table digs into the food first and takes the first bite.  Try everything you are offered and don’t make faces.  Don’t eat the last piece of anything; save that for the most important person at the table.  If you are offered the last piece of something, it is an honor.  You can return the honor by offering it to that person instead, or, someone else.
  • Slurping and Belching – slurping your soup is a-ok!  You might hear others belching, but, feel out the situation before joining in yourself.

  • Drinking – say “Gan Bei” when toasting others to signify “cheers!”  As the youngest person at the table, your job is to fill everyone’s tea cups, leaving yours for last.
  • Finishing the Meal – as a guest, make sure you do not leave too much food behind on your plate; it is an insult!  However, if you’re full, stop eating everything on your plate and drinking everything in your cup; your host will keep refilling them!
  • Paying – when eating out, splitting the bill is not an option.  It is a fight for the honor of paying for the bill.  However, if you lose, don’t worry; you’ll get it next time.  Relationships are kept tight between friends and family that owe each other one!  Just make sure you don’t outdo the person when either having them over at your house next or taking them out.

Further Reading:

Photo: flickr/JohnSeb

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: