Chinese Dining Etiquette

Chinese Dining Etiquette

Customs and etiquette in Chinese dining are the traditional behaviors observed while eating in Greater China. As a state of ceremonies, China has always attached great importance to etiquette. Chinese dining etiquette is an important portion of Chinese food culture. Good dining etiquette and table manners can show one’s good self-cultivation and leave good impression to your Chinese host.

Etiquette for Typical Chinese meals

Food Multiple dishes are placed on a circular turning board in the middle of round tables(Lazy Susan)and everybody shares all of the dishes (using serving cutlery or serving chopsticks). As with Western cultures, the more formal the meal the more courses are served. With most typical Chinese meals you can expect soup, fish, meat, rice and fruit.

  • Tea Pots are brought to the table almost immediately and are replenished throughout the meal. It’s considered polite to pour tea for those around you.
  • Nuts Served alongside pickles at the start of the meal, it’s considered elegant to eat these with chopsticks… which may be a good idea for calorie control but rather time consuming. As ‘double dipping’ with chopsticks is to be avoided at all costs the alternative option is to save some in your spoon (see photo) and eat with your individual chopsticks… Chinese peanut etiquette…who knew?! Depending on the formality of the occasion it may be acceptable to use your fingers.
  • Fish The traditional Chinese way of serving fish is fully intact (this represents prosperity and harmony). The head will be pointed towards the guest of honour. Don’t make the mistake of flipping the fish over though, many traditionalists believe this to be bad luck, so just remove the backbone to access the other side). The head and tail should remain intact (not to break up good fortune).
  • Rice This is always eaten from individual bowls which may be lifted by one hand and held at chin level while eating.
  • Noodles Same as for eating rice, some slurping is accepted (the same applies for soup).

Here are some important tips for table manners in China. 

1. Dress well and always arrive on time.
2. Seating arrangements are based on seniority.
3. The ordering of food will be taken care of by the host.
4. On a typical Chinese dining table there is always a cup, bowl and small saucer, together with chopsticks and a soup spoon.
5. Formal dinners will almost always have a consistent flow of the Chinese national drink, baijiu.
6. If the guest of honor has not started eating, it is considered rude for others to begin.
7. Food is served in big dishes, which are placed in the middle of a rotating table.
8. Never use chopsticks to stir food in the serving dishes.
9. Toasting to health, wealth and prosperity is an integral part of any dinner.
10. Toasting with baijiu is a common act in Chinese business dinners.

Chopstick Etiquette Mistakes to Avoid

Remember, even though chopsticks are fun for people who didn’t grow up using them daily, they are eating utensils! Would you spin, tap, play drums, bang together, or point at something with your fork and knife at home? Doing any of these things will brand you as an uncivilized amateur.

  • Do not use your chopsticks to point at food or for gesturing in the air while talking. This is an easy mistake to absentmindedly make while complimenting a particular dish.
  • Do not leave your chopsticks pointing directly at someone across the table. Angle them slightly.
  • Do not click your chopsticks together to make a noise or to move anything other than food.
  • Do not suck sauce or grains of rice off the ends of your chopsticks, even at the end of the meal.
  • Do not spear and lift food that is too slippery to handle. When necessary, it is acceptable to impale food only as a way to tear it apart on the plate. After breaking up food on your plate, pick up the smaller pieces as you normally would.

Tips to How to Use Chopsticks

How to Use Chopsticks

Drinking Etiquette in Chinese

As far back as the West Zhou Dynasty (1046BC – 771BC), China has established a complete drinking etiquette, which advocates people to drink wine in the right time, be moderate in drinking, and comply with the etiquette. It is common to propose a toast at a banquet in China. How to propose a toast is important for learning Chinese table manners. 

  1. There must be something for which you’d like to propose a toast.
  2. To propose a toast, it is polite for you to stand up, and hold the glass with your two hands.
  3. if you want to offer a toast to the people in attendance one by one, make sure you know the order, according to the age and status.