Dining With Manners the Chinese Way

When you dine with your Chinese friends, you need to observe proper etiquette. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
When you dine with your Chinese friends, you need to observe proper etiquette. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

When you dine with your Chinese friends, you need to observe proper etiquette. After all, table manners are a big part of the Chinese tradition. There’s a proper way to sit, to order a dish, to hold your chopsticks, and to eat in a Chinese gathering. Whether you are visiting China, eating in a classy Chinese restaurant, or forging deals, you have to be informed about how you should behave in this kind of setting. With that said, here are some Chinese table manners for you to learn.

Seating arrangement

When attending a banquet, you have to introduce yourself on arrival or let the master of the banquet do the introductions. A designated seat is arranged by the banquet master for you; that is where you take your spot.

For your information, the main seat, the one facing the entrance or to the east, is reserved for the host or guests of higher rank. The seats on the left-hand side are second, fourth, sixth and so on of importance. The right-hand side is ordered based on importance from third, fifth, seventh. So those in higher positions sit closer to the host. In family banquets, the elders take the main seat.

Formal banquets have more than one table. The main table is situated farthest from the entrance. And just like the seats, the tables on the left-hand side are in order of importance: second, fourth, sixth, etc. The tables on the right-hand side — third, fifth, seventh, and so on.

And remember, if most senior members or the guest of honor have not been seated yet, then others cannot take their seats. Also, never turn down a spot offered to you.

(Image: InterContinental Hong Kong via flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

The main seat is the one facing the entrance or to the east and is reserved for the host or guests of higher rank. (Image: InterContinental Hong Kong via flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

Ordering a dish

Sometimes, the menu will be circulated among the people in attendance. It’s encouraged to order an inexpensive dish or the local favorites as a courtesy to the host since he or she will be the one footing the bill. Also, put into consideration the dietary choices of those in attendance, like, if everyone is vegetarian, then don’t order meat.

Dig in, with manners!

Before you begin, let the elder or the highest ranking person lift their chopsticks first. But if you’re the guest of honor, then others will be waiting for you to initiate. Individual bowls of rice will be served for each guest, and the communal bowls will be served with the rest of the offerings and sauces. When taking food from the communal bowls, don’t use your chopsticks as it is unhygienic. Use the serving utensils instead; if serving utensils are not provided, turn your chopsticks around and use the other end. And don’t take food out of your reach since it is considered rude.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Don’t take food out of your reach since it is considered rude. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Remember, once you start eating, pick up your bowl or bend over and face it when eating; eat in silence and don’t make much noise, and don’t talk when your mouth is full.

Chopstick etiquette

There’s a proper way of handling the chopsticks. First, don’t use them to point at food or to gesture in the air while talking. Second, chopsticks are for the food, so don’t use them to lift other objects on the table. Next, it is unacceptable to skewer food when putting it in your bowl or mouth; the only scenario when this is fine is when you’re tearing apart a food on your plate. Also, don’t suck on chopsticks to get sauce or grains off. Don’t pass food or receive it with chopsticks. Just leave the food on the plate and let others pick it up. Never stick chopsticks vertically in your bowl since this gesture symbolizes death. And finally, once you’re done eating, don’t leave your chopsticks pointing at anyone.

Of course, once the banquet is done, show some manners and extend your appreciation to the host. Invite them over, and if they take up on your offer, don’t forget the Chinese table manners you learned.

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