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Want to Do Business with Chinese? These Dinner Etiquette is Essential!

May. 5, 2022

Meals and banquets are an important aspect of doing business in China, where they are used to form business deals, build relationships and show respect. That’s why people always say that “It’s at the business dinner table that business would actually be discussed.”

Given the hierarchical nature and business culture of Chinese, business etiquette at the lunch or dinner table is extremely important.

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Dress code

You should dress in accordance with everyone else at the dinner. If they’re all wearing suits, you should do the same. However, if they’re more casual, you can be too.

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Here are some words you might need to learn:

正装(zhèng zhuāng) : formal clothes/formal dress

领带(lǐng dài): tie

Arrive early or on time

As with a business meeting in China, arrive early or at least on time. Being late is often regarded as disrespectful.

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Here are some sentences you might need to learn:

qǐng zhǔn shí chū xí wǎn yàn.
请      准    时   出 席  晚   宴。
Please attend the dinner on time.

kuài diǎn, yào chí dào le.
快     点, 要   迟  到  了。
Hurry up, or we’ll be late.

Seating arrangements

In China, tables would usually be round to signify the inclusion and the importance of the whole group as a “family”. The seating arrangements usually mean a lot.

The hosts — the highest in the hierarchy on the Chinese side would always be sitting opposite the door. (If the table is rectangular, the host will most likely sit in the middle.) The most important guests would then be sitting on the right-hand side of the curve of the host. It’s always a good bet to wait until you’re invited to sit, rather than choosing a seat yourself.

The way that food and drinks would be served with actually mirror the hierarchical position of a person, the least important person on the host side would always be sitting at their back against the door.

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Here is a sentence you might need to learn:

nín xiān zuò.
您    先   坐。
After you./I’ll be seated after you.

Eating

Let older people or people with higher social status eat first, or if you hear the host says “let’s eat”, you can start to eat. You should never steal a march on the elders.

Please be aware: When you’re not using your chopsticks, place them in a chopstick holder if you’ve been given one, or side-by-side across the top of your bowl. Never rest your chopsticks by sticking them into your food.

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Here are some phrases and sentences you might need to learn:

好吃 (hǎo chī): delicious/it tastes good

wǒ huì shǐ yòng kuài zǐ.
我   会  使    用    筷  子。
I know how to use chopsticks.

qǐng gěi wǒ yī fù dāo chā.
请     给  我  一 副 刀   叉。
Please give me a knife and fork.

Toasting

After being seated, you need to follow the lead of the host, instead of eating or drinking immediately. Normally, the host will begin the lunch or dinner with a toast to the friendship or partnership between the guests and his or hers. There is often a glass that will be filled with Chinese liquor, or baijiu, a strong distilled alcohol. Do not drink from this glass unless a toast is offered.

Very often, towards the second half of the meal, people will then start standing up, going around the table and toasting individually one on one.

When toasting with others, it’s good etiquette to clink your glass lower than the rim of his or hers. It’s a sign of respect. Also, you should hold your glass with both hands.

In China, a popular toast would be an expression called “干杯 (gān bēi)”, which means “empty your glass” literally in Mandarin. “干杯 (gān bēi)” is the Chinese equivalent of the English “cheers” but with slightly different implications. When a person says “ganbei” to you at a meal, it would mean that you would be required to drink to the bottom. This is because of the culture behind “ganbei”: the more you drink, the more respect you show to the other person, no matter if you are toasting or being toasted. This is a custom deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

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Here are sentences you might need to learn:

wǒ ɡān le,   nǐ suí yì.
我   干  了,你 随 意。
I’ll empty it(my liquor). Be my guest.

wǒ xiǎng xiàng nín jìng jiǔ.
我    想      向     您  敬   酒。
I’d like to propose a toast to you.

zhù wǒ men yǒu yì dì jiǔ tiān cháng.
祝    我   们    友 谊 地 久  天    长。
May our friendship last forever.

Leave the dinner

Don’t forget the etiquette when leaving the dinner. Show your appreciate to the host and invite the host for a dinner. If you have to leave halfway, you should explain the situation and apologize to the host.

Although the host who invited you to dinner is obligated to take care of the check, it’s still polite to make the “move” to pay. Also, remember this: in China, you don’t need to tip. Tipping in China is generally uncommon and can even be considered rude or embarrassing in some circumstances.

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Here are is a sentence you might need to learn:

xiè xiè kuǎn dài.
谢  谢    款    待。
Thank you for your hospitality.

Although it may vary by region, table manners are an indispensable part in China if you want to do business with local people. If they are happy and enjoy the meal with you, there is a high possibility that the deals between you are sealed. It is fair to say that your performance during lunch or dinner is of great importance!

What else do you want to know on how to behave when having dinner with your Chinese business partners? You’re welcome to comment in the section below!

You May Want to Learn More :

“Part 2 of Applying 36 Chinese Stratagems to Business”

“What Questions Will You Be Asked in China?”

”How to apply 36 Chinese stratagems to business”

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