Business Dinner Etiquette in China

Going out to dinner as a means to conduct business is very common in China, as it is here. But there are many differences between the two. If you are a newcomer to that country, how can you be sure you’re following local custom? Here are some do’s and don’ts of what is appropriate and inappropriate when having dinner with colleagues in China.

Do:

  • Show up on time or slightly early
  • Know who’s the boss, and greet that person first
  • Come prepared
  • Dress in casual wear or formal wear – whatever the host has specified. If unsure, go with formal.
  • Shake hands in greeting. Don’t be surprised if the other person hangs on for a while. Length of the handshake is more important here, whereas strength of grip is more important in America.
  • Offer a business card to the host using both hands. This is as common as a handshake.
  • Read the business card if you are handed one, making sure to look interested. Refrain from putting it into your back pocket.
  • Make efforts to converse in Chinese, even if you don’t know a lot. The gesture will be appreciated.
  • Start eating only when your host does
  • Wait to be invited to eat before you start
  • Be sincere in your toasts but don’t draw it out any longer than your host did
  • Clink your glass beneath the rim of your host’s glass as a show of respect.
  • Leave some food on your plate after every course or the wait staff will assume you want more.
  • Let the host pay the bill, as is customary
  • Offer a gift if you have one, only at the conclusion of the dinner.

Don’t:

  • Refuse food unless you have an allergy. Sample a bit of everything served in a sign of respect.
  • Use wine to make a toast. The Chinese prefer to toast with a stronger alcohol called baijiu or maotai.
  • Drink from the toasting glass anytime except during the actual toast. Go easy on how much you sip. This alcohol is not tolerated as well for American stomachs!
  • Eat too much from one plate. There will likely be several dishes brought out, which everyone is expected to sample.
  • Dive right into business discussions right away. The Chinese engage largely in pleasantries as a way to break the ice. Eventually, the discussion will move on to light business talk focused on the company background.
  • Initiate talk about business unless the host does first.
  • Negotiate or challenge deals. This is not the time.
  • Flash your money to pay the bill. Let the host pay. If you are the host, settle the bill away from the table discreetly.
  • Linger after the person in charge of the dinner stands up to leave. Take this as the signal that the dinner is officially over.

To learn Mandarin Chinese and get more tips on culture or business etiquette, visit BRIC Language Systems today.