Formal Dining in China

Formal Dining in China – Dear Honoured Guest

Relocating to China can sure be a boost to the ego. Whether secretly enjoying being the center of attention or maybe needing a jolt of energy from being a minor [major] spectacle, a move to China should be on your list.


Very few events compares to being invited to Lunch or Supper.  Fortunately, doing business in a part of China virtually untapped by ‘western’ businesses affords the opportunity to get feet in the door and lots of Dinner invitations.


From Government officials, hotel managers, parents, to business people.  All roll out the welcome mat in friendly fashion.  Combine the traditional aspects of inviting a person to Lunch or Supper, then throw in a ‘westerner’, the experience will truly be something special.Chinese-dining-table-rendering


The entire process is fascinating to learn, but even a better experience since you get the vantage point of the ‘hot’ seat.  Even where you sit is based on your order of relevance.


The Setting

Formal meals are carried out on a circular table with a massive ‘lazy Suzanne’ in the middle.  This is Chinese Family Style.  A good deal Formal dinners are held in private rooms, as a matter of fact most restaurants have more private rooms then open floor space.  Dinner is not necessarily a ‘to see or be seen’ atmosphere.  VIP’s head straight to private rooms.



You won’t be handed a menu to choose from, the Host will go through a list of items offered by the restaurant and decide what will be shared by all at the table.  A typical spread will not be lacking.  Veggies, Soups, Seafood, Seafood and more Seafood, all manner of meats, Rice, and Steamed breads.  Once the table is full, simply pluck as the table is gently spun around by those seated.  On a rare occasion or two, the table will be mechanized.



The Host sits at the chair opposite the door of the room or where he/she can view the remaining room.

Host #2 will sit opposite Host #1.

The guests of honour will sit on either side of Host #1.  The job of Host #1, other than making his/her guests feel special, is to make sure their plates are full at all times and their glass is always topped off…….a significant and notable bit of information.


Being a Chinese person and the guest of honour may not be as ‘interesting’ as to that of a foreigner.  Two very real things come to play when assigned the ‘guest’ chair.

1)  For better or worse, Guests will get a chance to sample EVERY item on the table, for the job of host, as part of making you welcome, is to make sure your plate is never empty   Any questions will receive attention and an abundance of details will be provided.  Perhaps a type of food is Traditional or a specialty of the area….and so on.


Now, many readers are most likely asking, “what about the unique dishes served”, which may not be appealing to a foreigner’s western sensibilities?  Rest assured, a faux-pas will not result in deportation or suddenly be branded a spy,  simply being shipped off to a State Food Reprogramming Facility is a much easier solution….no biggie.  [yes, a joke].  Most Chinese already seem to know “Westerners’ do not partake in many diet choices considered everyday over here.  A strategy of Politeness and Respect will get you through any social setting.  Try it, if it does not work for you put it off to the side….move on.

2)  A glass is never be half empty or half full.  Count on someone coming by to top up your glass no matter how little or a lot has been drank.  The food my take some time to adjust, but the drinking style will slap you in the face.


The Host of the evening will be toast-happy and so will anyone else looking to score points.  They will toast you, your family, the future, the past, the present…etc etc, etc.  “OK, so what, a lot of toasting?”, you may ask.  The slap in the face does not come from the number of toasts, but the simple little fact being a toast means the entire contents of your glass must go with each toast.  Yes, they throw back, beer, wine and Mao Tai (a broth made from the personal devil’s distillery).  And you are not drinking from a shot glass, often times a red wine sized glass.  Ganbei (pronounced: “gan – bay”) will be a word well learned by the end of the meal.


Naturally, having a simple grasp of chopsticks will earn very high points.  The only aspect or behaviour quite opposed to western table manners would be the discarding of debris during meal time.  Items such as shells, bones, and what ever else is not consumed is simply accumulated off to the side, right on the table.  Certainly, a characteristic of a Chinese table would be to see the piles of debris at each dinners place setting.


glass of scotch


Click here and learn how a meal can turn out to be a challenge to your manhood or even your country.


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