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Chinese Business Etiquette Part 2
Business Dining Etiquette in China
Meal time is when businesses are conducted and just as business meetings, the host is the one who determines the food and seating. While dining formally with the Chinese it is important to always have the below points in mind:
Begin to eat: Never eat before the host begins, always follow your host’s cues. When you are seated, there are cold dishes which are placed on the table, always wait to be invited before you eat.
Refuse food: Since Chinese offer a lot of food, there is no harm in refusing food if you have allergies or dietary restrictions. Accepting some of everything and sampling all the dishes served is a sign of politeness but again you should not eat or drink something you don’t like since it may be assumed you want more. Rotation of plates can benefit you by just nodding to the waiter to remove a plate because it will give room for your preferences to be served.
Drinking: Local wine normally is preferred during banquets but Chinese often also offer baijiu or maotai. This is a strong distilled alcohol for toasts and there can be many toasts during a meal. You should never drink from the toasting glass unless during a toast. Also the size of the glass should not fool you as to the content’s power. In most cases, the Chinese will not force you to drink because they know their alcohol is considered strong for foreigners. Yoghurt can help to protect your stomach and some hosts will offer that so as to allay the effects of alcohol. Always avoid taking baijiu on an empty stomach because you will feel alcohol’s effect quickly; instead make sure you eat before toasting begins. If you do not drink due to personal or medical reasons, it is important to inform your host before the beginning of the banquet so that the host can make proper arrangements and avoid embarrassing you.
Toasting: The host may start off the banquet with a toast to your friendship, presence, cooperation, clinching a deal or getting to know each other. You can decide to reciprocate toast for toast or to wait until your host’s friend, colleague or any other member of the hosting party has toasted. After the host has toasted, it is expected that the principal guest should toast a few toasts. In case you want to toast, make sure your comments are warm and sincere, also, your toast should not be longer than your host’s. The Chinese normally say gan bei during toasting meaning bottom up. Always note that drinking is at times expected to be a proof of a close relationship for partners to show their true selves and it is done even in business context. Even though the expectation is changing and it depends on the region, one should not ignore it. It is uncommon to go round the table toasting each member of the party if the group at the banquet is comfortable with each other. You can take cue from your local contact, interpreter or your hosts.
Note: As a result of different regions in China, there is a great difference in dinning and toasting customs and it is important to ask your host once you are in doubt. Your host will be glad to explain to you and he will be happy for your interest in and respect for the local customs.
Conversation: In a formal context, the banquet is normally a social event. It is not a time for negotiating pleasantries even though discussions will likely center around pleasantries, the region or the company’s background. There will be pride in offering food though the focus is not food per se.
Bill payments: It is the host who pays the bill and if you are the host, you should not show money in front of your guest. You can choose to wait for your guests to leave before you pay or have someone slip out and settle the tab.
Banquet hosting: Once you conclude on a deal, it is not a must you host a banquet because it is not a common business practice. It is upon you to decide if you want to host a banquet because in a business context, it is considered a bad form for the Chinese company to provide you with the bill at the end of the meal or to insist you pay.
Conclusion: At a banquet, there is very little lingering. Formal dinners normally end suddenly by the senior member of the hosting party standing up. He could be followed by staff and subordinates. He then thanks the guests briefly for attending and proceeds to leave the room. This is a decisive and useful way to end the occasion though it may appear abrupt if you are witnessing this for the first time. Desserts or fruit courses are expected to follow some few minutes before the senior member of the hosting party leaves. At the end of the party, prior to departure, is when the gifts are offered.
- Make sure you learn to use chopsticks.
- You should not eat the last piece from the serving tray.
- The chopsticks ought to be returned to the chopstick rest after a few bites and also when you drink or speak.
- Never put bones in your plate, you should place them either in a special bowl for that purpose or on the table.
- While eating, always ensure that you hold the rice bowl near your mouth.
- When a Chinese makes belching or slurping sounds, you should not be offended as it simply means that he or she enjoys the food.
- There is no strict rule that you have to finish all the food in your bowl.