Evening banquets are the most popular occasions for business entertaining. Generally, they start between 5:30 p.m.- 6:00 p.m. and last for two hours. Guests should arrive on time. Chinese hosts and counterparts will probably be present before the proceedings officially begin. Banquets are hosted with varying degrees of extravagance, usually in a restaurant.
The meal begins with the entry of the revelers into the banqueting room. An elaborate ceremony of deference may take place at the door, where the most honored guest is supposed to enter first. Two or more guests may hold up this entry for some time, each insisting that the other is more worthy of this honor. The ensuing debate can, among good friends, lead to a bit of pushing, as the struggle escalates. Once through the door, the process may begin again, this time over the issue of precedence at the table. Usually, the guest of honor sits directly across from the host, who takes the least honorable seat near the serving door.
Wait to be seated, as there is a seating etiquette based on hierarchy in Chinese business culture.
Generally, the seat in the middle of the table, facing the door, is reserved for the guest of honor. The host sits directly to the left. Everyone else is seated in descending order of status. The most senior member sits in the center seat. Follow this seating pattern if you are hosting a banquet or a meal in your residence, whether for business or purely social reasons.
The host is the first person at the table allowed to begin eating and drinking. Then, the rest of the company can proceed with the meal.
Business is usually not discussed during the meal.
It is not uncommon for a host to order enough food for ten people at a table of five. He or she loses face if there are not plenty of leftovers at the end of a meal. Rice, considered by many Chinese to be filler, is generally not served until the end of a meal. So, if you want to eat rice with your meal, be sure to ask the waitress (or "Xiaojie" in Chinese) to serve it early, particularly if the food is spicy.
During a meal, as many as 20 courses can be served, so try not to eat too much at once. The best policy is to lightly sample each dish.
Leaving a "clean plate" is perceived to mean that you were not given enough food-a terrible insult here. On the other hand, leaving a food offering untouched will also give offense; even if you find a dish unappealing, try a small portion for the sake of politeness.
One important part of Chinese business entertaining is a tea drinking ritual known as "yum cha." It is used to establish rapport before a meeting or during meals.
If you do not want a "refill" of tea, leave some in your cup.
If you are served food that does not require utensils, you may be given a second cup of tea for the purpose of dipping and cleaning your fingers.
It's perfectly acceptable to reach in front of others for dishes and other items.
Seeds and bones are placed on the table or in a specially reserved dish; never place these objects in your bowl.
It will be appreciated if you use chopsticks. When you are finished eating, place your chopsticks on the table or a chopstick rest.
Placing your chopsticks parallel on top of your bowl is believed to bring bad luck.
Sticking your chopsticks straight up in your rice bowl is considered rude because in this position, they resemble the joss sticks that are used in Chinese religious rituals.
Do not put the end of the chopstick in your mouth.
When eating rice, follow Chinese custom by holding the bowl close to your mouth. Slurping and belching at the table can be perfectly acceptable: they are perceived as signs that you are appreciating the meal. Scorpions, locusts, snake skin, bile, and blood are considered delicacies.
Toothpicks are usually offered between courses and at the conclusion of a meal. When using a toothpick, cover your mouth with your free hand for concealment.
Forming a personal relationship ("guanxi" in Chinese) in your business dealings is very important. Little or no distinction is made between business and personal relationships and to succeed in China, you must establish close personal ties with your Chinese business colleagues. Respect and trust must be earned before the Chinese will do business with you. Part of this involves participating in the strong drinking culture that exists here. Generally, the Chinese regard with suspicion anyone who does not participate in the inevitable drinking that takes place during almost all business dinners. And it is at these kinds of social occasions that most negotiating breakthroughs are made.
Toasting, usually with beer, is an important part of Chinese business etiquette.
The host of a banquet offers the first toast. If you prefer not to drink alcohol, it's perfectly acceptable to toast with a soft drink, glass of juice, or mineral water.
Toasts will be proposed throughout the meal. The popular toast is "ganbei" ("bottoms up!").
Sometimes, the Chinese enjoy testing the ability of a foreigner ("laowai" in Chinese) to handle his or her alcohol, especially "er gua toe", a potent clear alcohol that one might compare to airline fuel. A good practice would be to eat something beforehand.
Before smoking, it's polite to offer cigarettes to those in your company.
The meal has reached a definite conclusion when fruit is served and hot towels are presented. Shortly after these items are offered, guests should make preparations to leave. In accordance with Chinese business etiquette, the host will not initiate the guests' departure.
Tipping is generally considered an insult in China. It is sometimes expected, however, in some of the bigger hotels and by younger service personnel.
Follow Chinese business protocol and reciprocate with a banquet of the same value; never surpass your host by arranging a more lavish gathering.
Generally, the Chinese are not great experimenters when it comes to their diet. Unless he or she has traveled extensively, the typical Chinese buisnessperson doesn't like Western food. Better to take your guests to a good Chinese restaurant rather than, for example, the latest French restaurant opening in Beijing. They'll appreciate it.
If you are hosting a banquet, you should arrive at least 30 minutes before your guests.
Home entertaining is very popular in China. If you are invited to a Chinese home, you will probably be asked to remove your shoes. Arrive on time, but not too early.
When inviting people to your home, avoid serving cheese: it is usually incompatible with the national diet.