At a time when the horizons for business and trade are soaring, it is important to remember that all is not equal with regards to etiquette. In this article I hope to enlighten you on some key elements of etiquette for a Chinese Business Meal.

Here are the key points to remember:

  •  Seating
    • In Chinese restaurants, tables are always large and round. Most of the restaurants have private room which is more suitable for discussion.
    • Guests will always sit facing the door.
  • Ordering meal:
    • Chinese meals are always share meals; typically the host will order a number of dishes, which are then shared amongst everyone.
  • Table manners:
    • It’s not polite to begin eating before your host commences the meal. The guests or the elders will always be allowed to eat first. The youth are never the first to eat.
    • The dishes are always placed in the middle of the table for sharing, please do not pick up or pass around the dishes; you can however stand up to get food.
    • The table setting for each person is always a plate placed under a bowl, with a pair of chopsticks on the left hand side and a tea cup in front of the bowl.
    • Food is transferred from the serving plate straight to their bowl, and then eaten from the bowl. Plates are used for bones and other waste.
    • If you use just one hand to eat, do not hide your another hand under the table. Instead use it to hold your bowl or place it on the table.
    • Never take the last piece of food from a plate.
  • Tea manners:
    • Always offer tea to others before pouring tea for yourself.
    • As a traditional show of politeness, tap your index and middle fingers lightly on the table near the cup when someone pours tea for you.
    • As a show of respect, youth or the hosts will always pour tea for the elders or guests.
  • After meal:
    • Refrain from placing your chopsticks on top of your bowl or stick them in the bowl. Sticking your chopsticks in your bowl is viewed as a mockery of religious incense ceremony and is therefore extremely rude.
    • The host is expected to pay the bill especially in a business meal and a family dinner. Chinese don’t do the Dutch, which they call “AA rule”. Paying separately is seen as a stingy behaviour in China.
    • Tipping is also not a custom in China.

In China, people do not talk business during the meal. If they are happy and enjoy the meal with you, there is a high possibility that they will do the business with you. It is certainly fair to say that the likelihood of doing business with a Chinese business is hinged about 50% on your performance during dinner!


Ricki Liang