Eating at a Chinese Banquet


It’s easy to eat and speak a little Mandarin Chinese at a Chinese Banquet. Bring a small gift for the host if you barely know him or her. Bring a nice bottle of wine or a nicer gift if you know him well (after all you are part of the family.) Come early, let the host seat you according to plan, and don’t drink anything but water or tea before the first toast. Don’t eat a bite until the guest of honor (person facing the door or the host), not the host, takes the first bite even if he says in Mandarin Chinese “Let’s eat” or even puts food in your dish, unless you are, yourself, the guest of honor!

One or two helpings are enough if it is a formal meal, because there will be close to 12 courses. Pick from the side of the platter nearest to you and don’t dig trough the dish looking for the best morsel. Eat with your wrists on the table, as it is rude to keep them on your lap. Lay your chopsticks to the side of your plate on top an upside down spoon or on a chopstick rest.  Otherwise, place the tips on the edge of your plate.  Never stick your chopsticks in the rice or wave them in the air while you are talking. Put them down while you are talking. Hold your rice bowl up lightly, thumb on rim and index finger and middle finger at the bottom. Put it down while talking. Keep conversation light, and praise the atmosphere to everybody (yītuán héqì 一团和汽  “group friendly warm”) and dishes to the host (chuíxián yùdī  垂涎 欲滴  “mouth watering delicious”).  The host may criticize the dishes or even criticize the cook, but this is just a show of humility. You may find this man’s video’s interesting:

Like in the west, casual Friday is not an opportunity to wear rags, even informal dinners are not a time to be overly relaxed with your attention to table manners.