Guide to Table Etiquette in China


Food is an important part of Chinese culture, so knowing the right table manners is key when eating with Chinese colleagues, partners, or friends.
From basic Chinese table manners to chopstick etiquette, this guide will help you navigate Chinese dining customs 🍽️

Chinese Table Manners:

Do's and Don'ts

             


01. Seating Arrangement

In China, seating arrangements at meals are taken very seriously. At formal banquets, guests should follow the host's seating plan.



排座次
pái zuòcì

seating arrangement


  • The seat facing the entrance is the most important and is usually reserved for the host or the guest of honor.
  • The seat opposite the entrance is reserved for the co-host to have direct communication with staff and to make sure the ordering of food goes smoothly. 
  • Other guests will be seated according to their status hierarchy outward from the seat of the highest level attendee. 

🤓 We recommend you wait until you are told where to sit, as you don't want to take the wrong seat. The host should actively take care of all his guests, inviting them to enjoy their meal.


02. Chopsticks Rules


In China, where dishes are commonly shared, it's considered impolite to use personal chopsticks (私筷 sīkuài) for serving food. Instead, dishes are often accompanied by communal serving chopsticks, known as 公筷 (gōngkuài).

 NOTE.

Some restaurants now offer "black-and-white chopsticks", which refer to "public chopsticks and private chopsticks".

⚫️ Private chopsticks: these are black and are meant for personal use.⚪️ Public chopsticks: these are white and should be used for picking up food, avoiding contact with the mouth.

Here are some other chopstick taboos you should know 🥢


🙅Don't:


  • Stick chopsticks vertically into your food.

  • Bite or lick the tips of chopsticks.

  • Pick up food by stabbing it with chopsticks.

  • Drag plates around with chopsticks.

  • Use chopsticks to move the bowl or plate.



03. Master the Art of 干杯 


When Chinese people say "干杯" (gān bēi) while toasting, it's not just a formality — it's a genuine expectation to finish the drink in your glass 🥂


干杯!
Gān bēi!‍‍
Cheers! Bottoms up!

lit. "dry-cup"

 PRO TIP.

If you do decide to deliver a toast to your host, do that while standing and holding a cup with both handsAt the same time make sure you lower your glass than the one of your host. It's another sign of showing your respect and gratitude.


04. Exchange Business Cards Like a Pro‍‍‍

Even though most Chinese people use WeChat for exchanging contact information nowadays, in formal business meetings, it's still common to exchange 名片 (míngpiàn), and business cards.


When exchanging business cards with Chinese, if it has Chinese characters, show that side up and offer it with both hands. If your business card also includes your Chinese name, you'll be even more warmly received!
名片
míngpiàn
business card


05. Face Culture

"Face Culture" is widely present in Chinese society, and it's a cultural aspect that foreigners find challenging to grasp. Whether you're talking with friends, at work, or even between countries, keeping face is a big deal.



面子文化
miànzi wénhuà
lit "face-culture"

Here are several situations where "face" holds significant importance:


  • 要面子 (yào miànzi) · "to save face"
Refers to a person caring deeply about their status, or reputation.
  • 给面子 (gěi miànzi) · "to give face"‍‍

"Giving face" means considering others' feelings. 

  • 丢面子 (diū miànzi) · "to loose face"

Refers to losing one's dignity or image. 

  • 没面子 (méimiànzi) · "to be without face"

Means feeling extremely embarrassed. 


From business meetings to online appearances, the concepts of "miànzi" are still very important today. Here are some tips for maintaining "miànzi" in social interactions:


✔️ Show respect for others' opinions, even if you disagree with them.
✔️ Avoid embarrassing others, as this can damage their "miànzi".
✔️ Appreciate the efforts and kindness of others.
✔️ Avoid actions that may undermine your reputation.


06. Compliments Throughout Eating

Chinese hosts are incredible at making guests feel welcome. Attending one of their dinners is a fantastic way to experience Chinese culture and bond with Chinese friends. You should always try everything the hosts offer and compliment them on their hospitality.


 NOTE.

It is also common for guests to refill each other's drinks. So, it is important to say "谢谢 xièxie" to anyone refilling your drinks. And if your mouth is full, a polite alternative is to gently tap twice with your index and middle finger to avoid interrupting ongoing conversations.



07. Paying Bills Chinese Way

It's polite to offer to pay the bill in China, but usually, the host insists on covering it. If someone else ends up paying, make sure to express gratitude and offer to treat them to a meal next time.


When dining with friends, it's common to playfully argue over who will pay the bill. If you're eager to treat your colleagues or friends, you can say:



我请客。
Wǒ qǐng kè.
It's on me.‍‍
lit. "I-request-guest"

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