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Business Dinners – China

In a formal dinner set-up, there is typically a dress code or attire that goes with the setting and that which is considered appropriate for the evening meal. A case in point is a man can don a tuxedo to the event and women wear dresses. The food being served comes from the kitchen, and none of the guests is allowed to pass the dishes nor touch the serving platters. The dishes used in serving are also normally not placed on the dining table, and the serving plus clearing the table is often done by the butlers and the staff on duty(Sennett 1). Formal dinner also entails multiple courses and servings of brandy, liqueurs, and demitasse. And finally, the other standing out factor in formal dinners is the serving order as well as the seating protocols on the dining table where seats are clearly marked as to who seats next to or across to whom.

In the Chinese set-up of formal dinner, the seat of honor tends to be set aside for the guest with who outranks all the others if it is business dinner, and if you are hosting guests, then the seat goes to the host, and if it is a family dinner, the seat goes to the eldest. The round table with the lazy susan at the middle is mostly used to create order when serving. After the top seat has been taken, then the sequence of seating is the second, fourth, sixth, eighth in that order take the seats to the left of the seat of honor, and the third, fifth, seventh, and so on take the seats to the right until the lowest-ranked person taking the seat closest to the door(Yen 166).

In old Chinese ways, there used to be a furniture piece called eight immortals that was square-shaped with benches on either side that seated two people. And the same criteria were applied where the right-hand seat of the two seats that were facing the door belonged to the guest of honor, and if there were no doors in sight, then the right-hand seat facing the east was the top seat. And the order followed with even numbers in rank seating to the left, and the odd numbers in rank sat to the right. However, the seating plans came from ancient times that had four-tier classism with the highest level being the imperial court, then secondly came the local authorities, thirdly came the trade associations, and finally, the fourth tier were the workers and farmers(Zeng et al. 2).

A formal dinner in the Chinese customs stipulates for having about a total of about 12 to 16 dishes with 4 to 6 of them being cold foods the likes of fruits or foodstuffs that are usually served cold, then about 8 to 10 of the food will be hot foods or those that have to be served while still hot. Also, they consider serving their guests rare or expensive foods to be a show of respect as well as considered classy due to the rareness of the items acquired(Ma 196). When everyone is seated, the person in the seat of honor gives a toast then invites everyone to the food, and they get to serve first and turn the susan round after serving so the rest can serve. When serving, one has to wait for the dish in front of them to serve themselves. One should not poke around the dish looking for a specific piece since this will be considered unhygienic, as well as not getting large servings of one dish since it will signify greediness.

There are several things one is advised against doing while on the dining table out of good courtesy and maintaining good etiquette. They include, firstly, while using your chopsticks, one should not tap the side of their plate intentionally since it will signify that they are starving or asking for a meal which in most cases is not the case since the food is normally on the lazy susan at the middle of the table. Secondly, while eating with your chopsticks and having to gesture, it is recommended for one to not point with the chopsticks or their index finger since it signifies that one is rude to the person being pointed. Thirdly, abstain from licking or sucking on your chopsticks no matter how tasty the dish was since it shows a lack of respect to the rest of the table members(Wang 96).

Fourthly, when serving a dish, even if it is your favorite dish on the table, you should not go poking around in the dish in search of a specific piece shows greed and is inconsiderate to the rest. Fifthly, abstain from rubbing your chopsticks together. Sixthly, when eating or serving a dish at the table, chopsticks are not to be placed vertically after serving since it will insinuate the sticks used for incense normally used during the loss of family members, or some funeral passage rites done to offer meals to the deceased that entails using vertical chopsticks. Finally, one should not drop their chopsticks.

The overall principle in Chinese table etiquette is that one should eat small amounts of everything hence the course being 12 to 16 dishes. It is respectful to the host or the one ordering or serving for the guests to sample every dish put in front of them despite your dislike of it; otherwise, any untouched dish will be offensive to the host(Hu and Grove 34). Also, one is not advised to clear the food on their plate after courses since it will signify that you did not have enough to eat. Once a dessert or a fruit dish course comes to the table, then this should signify that the dinner is coming to an end, and the ultimate end will be signified when the person seated in the seat of honor stands up to give a vote of thanks then leaving. Now everyone can leave or remain seated, but the formalities will be done, and now people can socialize.

Their traditional ways have not changed a lot despite the changing times in the world. It is the one thing that makes their dining unique and special as compared to the western ways, which have been endorsed across many parts of the world. They still follow the seating patterns, the table serving order, the number and particulars of dishes to be served, the use of chopsticks is still adored, the round table and the lazy susan still in use. The Chinese treasure their past since it is what sets them apart from the rest of the world. Traditional Chinese cooking never used to involve much deep-frying as a mode of preparing meals, but due to some relocating and to different parts of the earth(Lin 1). They found themselves evolving and incorporating the Western ways of cooking so as to break into the market and stay afloat due to stiff competition but at the same time still serve their country people their traditional food and to those who wanted to sample them too.

There are several things to look out for when you are a guest in a Chinese household. The first is to get there in time as opposed to being late and find people waiting for you. Also, it is common courtesy to always carry a gift with you when visiting someone, but in the Chinese culture, one should buy a gift depending on their rank compared to the host. If you outrank them, then you are supposed to get them a quality gift; otherwise, if you are lower in rank or a stranger, you bring them a small gift. Next thing is upon arrival at the house; you have to present yourself to the host if they are not the ones who got the door for you so that they can welcome you, introduce you to the rest as well, as show you your place in the table as seen earlier that they follow a certain sitting style(Tiana 1).

The other issues to be aware of are just the normal table manners mentioned earlier, like the chopsticks dos and don’ts, the serving order, and the general rule is to consider others when serving by not finishing the dish for those yet to serve. Also, eat you’re your mouth closed, do not place your elbows on the dining table, do not chew loudly, open your mouth once the chopsticks are there as opposed to getting your tongue out to get food. And while on the table, no using of phones or watching television but be present in the meal and strike conversations with the rest on the table.

At the dining table, business discussions are not permitted since people are supposed to enjoy their meal; thus, talking business will make people shift their focus to that discussion as opposed to focusing on the food on the table. The topics to be discussed should be anything fun or considered to be light discussions like the weather, football, family, hobbies, or anything that is not involved or that can make people anxious.

As a guest, all that is required from you is your appetite since the Chinese have a belief that feasting together brings about closeness and harmony either in the family or in normal friendships. One just has to avoid sticking chopsticks upright into dishes since it is associated with a funeral ritual. Once served, do not clear your plate nor leave it full with food since both are insults to the host, the latter being that the food was not good and the former being you did not have enough. And finally, it is against the Chinese norms to flip a fish as it is considered to be bad luck; thus, the best way to go about it is once you are done eating one side, you wiggle the bones/ skeleton, and they will loosen up, and then you can pull it out and continue to eat, the flipping is believed to be like flipping your future(Xin 1).

Works Cited

Hu, W., and C. L. Grove. Encountering the Chinese: A Guide for Americans. Intercultural Press, 1999,

Lin, Kathy. “Chinese Food Cultural Profile.” Ethnomed.Org, 2001,

Ma, Guansheng. “Food, Eating Behavior, and Culture in Chinese Society.” Journal of Ethnic Foods, vol. 2, no. 4, 2015, pp. 195–99, doi:

Sennett, Jay. “Rules of Civility: Dinner Etiquette – Formal Dining.” Www.Gentlemansgazette.Com, 2022,

Tiana. “Chinese Table Manners – The Dining Etiquette You Need To Know.” Www.Yumofchina.Com, 2022,

Wang, Q. Edward. “Using Chopsticks: Customs, Manners and Etiquette.” Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History, Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 93–119, doi:10.1017/CBO9781139161855.007.

Xin, Diana. “Chinese Dining Etiquette Survival Guide.” Yoyochinese.Com, 2015,

Yen, Wei. “Etiquette with Chinese Characteristics.” From the Great Wall to Wall Street: A Cross-Cultural Look at Leadership and Management in China and the US, Nov. 2016, pp. 165–78, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-33008-2_9.

Zeng, Ningning, et al. “Effects of Seat Position on Perception of Power in Chinese Traditional Culture.” Asian Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 22, 2018, doi:10.1111/ajsp.12354.


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