This tip sheet on table manners at business banquets in China will explain each step of the process, including sending invitations, seating arrangements, ordering, toasting, dining and paying the bill.
Always send invitations a day or a few days in advance to avoid improvisation which may make guests feel disrespected.
When choosing a venue for a business banquet try to choose a stand-alone restaurant, remembering to avoid those in shopping malls, and consider the distance from the hotel where your guests are staying and, if possible, pick a place where parking is easy.
Unlike western countries, the Chinese attach great importance to reunions, so at meals everyone shares each plate of food and uses chopsticks to get the food from the plate to their own bowl. At business banquets, it is customary to use round tables with a rotating disc on which the plates are placed on the edge so that anyone sitting in any position can pick up their favorite dish by turning the disc.
Since a round table is used, the seating arrangements during the banquet are very elaborate. Generally speaking, the seat directly opposite the door of the box is the main seat, which is where the host sits. In China, right-handedness is considered a priority, so the main guest should sit to the right of the host and the second guest to the left of the host. When seating, guests should be invited to take their seats first, while the invited party should politely excuse themselves at this point, preferably without sitting down directly.
Ordering A La Carte
China has many cuisines and a variety of cooking methods, so ordering food for a banquet is a learned skill. It is usually the host who will do this job, and it is best to know the eating habits and avoidances of your guests before ordering. Remember that if there are female guests and children present, take care to cater for their tastes and preferences. When ordering, the number of dishes is usually even, with a mixture of hot and cold dishes, meat and vegetables, and a few main courses, but not too many.
The host will ask the guests to add a few extra dishes as a gesture of courtesy and politeness. If you are invited, don’t order anything too expensive, just pick a medium-priced dish from the specials.
The formal toast is usually initiated by the host after the guests have been seated, with a few words of blessing. After the formal toast the meal begins, and it is time for everyone to toast each other in a free-flowing manner.
Points to note are:
- Do not interfere with your guests’ meal and never toast while the other person’s mouth is still chewing food.
- Do not interrupt the conversation by toasting while the guest is talking to someone else.
- Do not toast the same person just after someone else has finished, give the guest a buffer and time to eat.
- When clinking glasses, the rim of the glass should be lower than the other person’s glass as a sign of respect.
- The inviting party needs to keep an eye on the situation so that guests don’t appear to have empty glasses and to refill the guests’ wine in time.
- Drink in moderation and do not try desperately to persuade the guest to drink.
- As mentioned earlier, business meals are served at round tables and you need to turn the turntable. If you see someone else doing so, do not turn the table and help them to hold the table steady.
- If there is a soup in front of you, serve a bowl of soup to the guests on the left and right first.
- During the meal, it is best not to look at your mobile phone if it is not an urgent matter.
Paying The Bill
It should be the host who pay the bill, but instead of calling out to the waiter, ask the assistant to do this at the cashier’s desk and ask the waiter to bring the invoice to the box later. When the invoice is brought, it means that the banquet is basically over.
Want to learn more about China? Check out this article: Etiquette Of Tea Drinking In China