chinese business dinner

Business Lunch or Dinner Etiquette in China

Doing business in China is all about relationships and therefore you’ll often need to attend a business lunch or dinner with your supplier. Read our guide to find out why relationships are so important in China, and read below to find out the proper etiquette for dining with your business partners in China.

 

Arrival

As with a business meeting in China, arrive early or at least on time. Being late is a sign of disrespect. 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.

 

Seating

Chinese dining is usually at a round table however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a still a hierarchy, in place in regards to seating. The host of the meal usually sits facing the door. If the table is rectangular, the host will most likely sit in the middle of the table. Sometimes this seat will have a napkin folded like a crane on the plate in front of it. The primary guest of the host, in most cases that would be you, will sit to his or her left. It’s always a good bet to wait until you’re invited to sit, rather than choosing a seat yourself. That way you won’t inadvertently disrespect the host.

 

The host of the meal usually sits facing the door. If the table is rectangular, the host will most likely sit in the middle of the table... The primary guest of the host, in most cases that would be you, will sit to his or her left

 

 

Conversation

Business negotiations rarely take place at a business lunch or dinner, rather it’s a time for developing your business relationships or guanxi, which you can read about in our guide to China. Keep the conversation light and pleasant, complimenting the food at the dinner, discussing the weather, your hometown, or the Chinese landscape. Expect to be asked personal questions about your age, marital status, or income. It is okay to evade these questions, but in China they are not considered rude. For more about conversation in China, you can refer to our guide.

 

Ordering the Food

If a menu has not been preset, expect a lengthy discussion about what to order. Most menus feature It is necessary for everyone to agree, so be receptive. Do not suggest American food even if it is offered on the menu. China is considered to have some of the best food in the world, so be open-minded and try the dishes your host recommends.

 

Most menus feature It is necessary for everyone to agree, so be receptive. Do not suggest American food even if it is offered on the menu.

 

 

The Toast

After being seated, do not immediately begin to eat or drink, instead follow the lead of the host. The host will typically begin with a toast to the primary guest’s friendship. There is often a toasting glass that will be filled with wine or baijiu, a strong distilled alcohol. Do not drink from this glass unless a toast is offered.

 

When toasting with the host, it’s good etiquette to clink your glass lower than the rim or his or hers. It’s a sign of respect.

 

 

When toasting with the host, it’s good etiquette to clink your glass lower than the rim or his or hers. It’s a sign of respect.

 

Although it varies by region, some Chinese business people believe that drinking together is proof of a close relationship. It is acceptable to ask if this is a local custom; Chinese business people will respect your interest in their social culture. If there is a reason why you cannot drink, advise the host of this before the meal.

 

If you are the guest of honor, it will be your responsibility to toast a few courses afterwards. Keep your toast sincere and shorter than the host’s. As part of a toast, one normally says “gan bei” (pronounced gahn-bay) which translates as “dry cup” or “bottoms up.”

 

It is also not uncommon to go around the table toasting each member of the party.

 

 

Eating the Meal

 

Starting to Eat

After toasting, the host will begin the meal by beginning to serve others at the table, as Chinese meals are typically served family-style or from common dishes that are shared. This is your cue that you may begin eating.

 

Using Chopsticks

Regardless of your ability to do so, it is polite to use chopsticks during your meal. Aside from the soup course, every course will be eaten with chopsticks. It is considered bad etiquette to do the following:

  • Do not tap your chopsticks on the side of your plate. This is considered to be the behavior someone who is starving and begging for a meal.
  • Pointing is considered rude in Chinese culture so do not stretch out your index finger when using chopsticks and never point with them.
  • Do not suck a chopstick.
  • Do not poke at dishes inspecting them and not knowing what you want to take.
  • Do not rub chopsticks together.
  • Do not insert chopsticks vertically into a dish, always at an angle.
  • Do not drop your chopsticks.

 

It is acceptable to rest your chopsticks horizontally on the side your bowl or plate.

 

Table Manners

It is considered perfectly acceptable and even courteous to the host to burp, slurp, and belch while eating in China. However, you should follow the lead of those around you.

 

Toothpicks are commonly used between courses. While using the toothpick, good etiquette dictates that you cover your mouth with your other hand.

 

Emptying Your Plate

The general principle in China is to eat a little of everything. Ample food will be served. Sample from every dish despite the fact that you may be unfamiliar with some such as dog meat, blood, scorpions, snake, and grasshoppers. The host will be offended if food is left untouched.

 

Leave food on your plate after each course. It is considered an offense to finish everything as it signals to the host that you have been left unsatisfied.

 

The End of the Meal

A fruit or dessert course signals that the meal may be ending soon. Meals officially end when the host stands up, thanks the guest and other members of the party for attending then leaves. Hot towels may be offered at the end of the meal. You will not be asked to leave, but the host’s departure is the signal that it is time to go.

 

 

Paying for the Meal

The host pays for all the other participants at the business dinner in China. Should you decide to host yourself, bear in mind that it is considered rude to tip.

 

The host pays for all the other participants at the business dinner in China. Should you decide to host yourself, bear in mind that it is considered rude to tip.

 

Following these tips will help you build trust with your supplier in China to protect your business. Want more tips on working with your suppliers in China? Check out our comprehensive guide on How to do Business in China. Veem offer a cheaper and safer way to pay your business partners, whether they’re in China or any of the 60 countries we serve.


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