Chinese Dining Etiquette and Culture

Eating is a dominant aspect of Chinese culture, and eating out is one of the most common ways to honor guests, socialize, and deepen friendships. So proper etiquette is very important to traditional Chinese people. Dining etiquette in China and Chinese culture is not quite the same as it is here in America. Here we help you grasp the basics content of Chinese Dining Etiquette and Culture.

Table & Place Settings

In most traditional Chinese dining, dishes are shared communally. Although both square and rectangular tables are used for small groups of people, round tables are preferred for large groups, particularly in restaurants, in order to permit easy sharing. Lazy Susan turntables are a common feature at the center of larger tables, to facilitate passing of serving dishes. 

A basic place-setting consists of a small teacup; a large plate with a small, empty rice bowl; a set of chopsticks, usually on the right of the plate; and a spoon. Additions may include a chopstick holder; a large water or wine glass; and a smaller glass for baijiu. At homes and low-end restaurants, napkins may consist of tissues or occasionally must be provided by the dinner. High restaurants often provide cloth napkins similar to western dining as part of the place-settings.

Proper Seating Etiquette

There is a specific seating order to every formal dinner, based on a hierarchy (age, social standing, occupation, etc). The seat of honor, reserved for the host or oldest person, is usually the one in the center facing east or facing the entrance. Others with higher status then sit in close proximity to the seat of honor, while those with lower positions sit further away. The least prominent seat is generally the one nearest to the kitchen entrance or service door.

On arrival one should first introduce oneself, if you are unfamiliar with the other guests, allow the host of the banquet to make the necessary introductions. Only after the senior or the guest of honor sit down, other people can be seated. Ask the oldest or most senior person at the table to raise the chopsticks before you touch them. If you’re the guest of honor, someone else may be waiting around the table for you to start!

A Standard Chinese Banquet

While meals in Western restaurants are often served with a cold beverage, Chinese establishments often first offer their various teas. Even dishes renowned for their spice are accompanied by a pot of hot brewed tea.

Wide variations exist throughout China, but the vast majority of full-course dinners are very similar in terms of dishes. A standard banquet will consist of 4-8 cold dishes, 8 hot dishes, soups, steamed rice and pastries. The dinner finishes up with fruits. 

Chopstick Etiquette

Chopsticks play the most important role in Chinese cuisine culture. Chinese people have used it as the main tableware for 3,000 years. Chopsticks are smoothed and frequently tapered and are commonly made of bamboo, plastic, wood, or stainless steel. The following things should be avoided when you are using chopsticks. 

  • They should never be placed vertically as this is considered a bad omen, reminiscent of incense sticks at funerals.
  • It’s rude to gesture or point with your chopsticks, as well as play excessively with chopsticks.
  • Do not bang your chopsticks as though you were playing a drum. It implies you are a beggar.
  • When taking a break, leave your chopsticks to the side of your plate or bowl. Use the chopstick rest if one is provided.
  • Do not leave your chopsticks pointing directly at someone across the table. 
  • Do not use your chopsticks to burrow through the food and “dig for treasure” .
  • At most formal meals, there are likely pairs of communal serving chopsticks. These are sets of chopsticks specifically for shared dishes only. 

Table Manners


If you are provided a cloth napkin, tuck the corner under your plate so that it hangs in your lap. This also prevents it from falling onto a possibly dirty floor. 

When you help yourself, you should first take it from the plate in front of you, not those in the middle of the table or in front of others. Pick up your bowl with your thumb on the mouth of the bowl, support the bottom of the bowl with your first finger, middle finger the third finger and palm empty. Try to pick up too much food at a time. Don’t let the food splash or let soup or sauce drip onto the table. And don’t put too much food into your mouth at a time.

Toothpicks are often supplied at the end of a meal. Use your other hand to cover your mouth while digging between teeth. Unlike the other rules, this one has nothing to do with death; it just prevents a gross spectacle.


Water and other non-alcoholic beverages may be consumed at any time. However, in formal settings, alcohol should be consumed during toasts. Formal dinners will almost always have a consistent flow of the Chinese national drink, baijiu. People at a table will usually ‘Gan Bei’ when toasting each other. People dry up their glasses to communicate the message to others that they are sincere and joyful.  In order to show respect, younger people or people with lower position should lower their cup to the elder or higher position people when toasting.

See Chinese Drinks.

Food Culture Travel

Food is an integral part of Chinese culture and it should be an integral part of your trip too if you are a foodie who loves Chinese food. Don’t miss the famous local cuisine at the destination you stay. Most often, delicious food is with beautiful sceneryBeijingXianChengdu and Shanghai are famous food centers of China. Peking Roast Duck, Sichuan Hot Pot, Mapo Tofu, Kung Pao Chicken… Different cities have different local flavors and different food culture. Choose places to visit according to your preference. We have designed a series of China food tours for you. If you have enough time, you can visit several places to taste the great regional cuisine. Also, if you are interested enough, you can also have chances to make Chinese food. 

Recommended Food Culture Tours:
Xian Evening Tour with Dumpling Dinner, Xian Tang Dynasty Show and City Night View
2 Days Beijing Highlights Tour with Beijing Roast Duck and Kong Fu Show
9 Days Beijing-Xian-Chengdu Small Group Tour
12 Days China Paradise Culture Tour by Train

Read more about China Food Culture Tours.