Dining like a local is an important part of any trip, wherever it is you’re venturing to on your travels. Chinese cuisine is renowned around the world, but there’s nothing like sampling dishes in the country of their origin. You’ll be spoilt for choice on your trip to China, with the country’s street food scene and countless eateries offering plenty of food for thought.
While using your table manners is vital when eating in and out at home. Dining out in China at a local restaurant takes these etiquette rules to a whole other level. Here, our experts share the Chinese dining etiquette tips every visitor should know.
Wait your turn
Meals in China are a lot different than at home, and we’re not talking about the way that they taste. Meals are generally shared, with most not just a bite to eat but a bonding experience.
Restaurants cater to this way of eating by having rotating tables (also known as lazy Susans) fitted on top of tables to make sharing dishes easier.
When dining as a group, you must wait your turn to spin the rotating table and grab the dish of your choice. Spinning the table when someone else is reaching for food is a big no-no.
With sharing dishes, sanitation is a top priority. You’ll find that communal chopsticks are placed with each dish so use them. Your own personal chopsticks should only be used to pick food from your plate.
Mastering the art of using chopsticks is no easy feat. Once you’ve honed your skills, chopsticks are an excellent utensil that can be utilised at the dining table to pick up all manner of food, from pieces of meat to the tiniest pea. As you can imagine there are a number of etiquette rules that apply to handling chopsticks.
First and foremost, chopsticks should only be used for eating. Never use them to point at someone or as drumsticks. Committing either of these faux pas is a sign of disrespect and bad table manners.
When chopsticks aren’t in use, they should be placed across or neatly to the side of the bowl, not stuck upright into the food. This is the ultimate taboo and is even thought to bring bad luck as rice is presented at funerals in this way.
Let your host be the host
Being a host is one role that’s taken very seriously in China, and this should be respected as a guest. Hosts have a number of responsibilities, including being in charge of ordering all the food as Pink Pangea explains:
“The ordering of food will be taken care of by the host. Generally, you don’t get much of a say in this. If you do by chance happen to mention that you would like to taste something, you can be assured that your host will look for the best and most expensive variety on the menu. They want you to enjoy your experience with them.”
In return your host should be shown appreciation, not questioned, and kindly thanked and invited to dinner at the end of the meal. Seating arrangements are also influenced by tradition and dictated by the host.
Seating arrangements are particularly strict at Chinese banquets and more formal affairs. The command seat or head of the table is generally presented by the host to the person with the highest status or the guest of honour.