So – Your Chinese Supplier Invites You Out for Dinner!!!

10 Nov

If you do business in China you will soon experience the way business is done here.  Most decisions are made during dinner banquets after the vast majority of the participants are no longer able to stand correctly.  Let me give you a few pointers so you can survive this without having to be carried back to your hotel room by a quite proud host.

So here we go…………..

As the guest of honor you will be seated in the place facing the door. The position is traditionally reserved for the most senior person by age or position in the family or organization.  Don’t fight this or try to be humble and give it someone else cause you’ll end up there no matter what.  You should know by now who the highest ranking person is who is attending from your host company and pay attention to them.  Ignoring the “big guy” is a pretty big insult so try to avoid that at all costs.  
Someone from your host company will be doing the ordering and may or may not ask for your input.  I’ve found that it’s pretty normal for them to pick a few shocker items just to see how you’ll react to them.  Drunken Shrimp and deep fried whole baby bird are a couple of my all time favorites.   You can Google the shrimp and see what it is and the other you just have to use your imagination.  I’m an Iowa farm boy from a family with nine children so when it comes to food it wasn’t what it was, it was how much of it was mine.  So I’m pretty good when it comes to eating just about anything and figure if my hosts are eating it,  I will too.

The dreaded Chop Sticks

If you are going to be doing business in China and plan to visit more than one time figure out how to eat with chop sticks. It’s really not that hard after you work on it a little and they’re great for avoiding all that orange cheese stuff on your fingers  when eating a bag of Cheetos. If you just can’t figure it out you can ask for a fork and knife. 
One point to remember; it’s normal at some point during the dinner for small bowels of rice to be brought for everyone. It’s sticky rice and not a huge problem to eat with your chop sticks.  You may think that the rice bowel is a handy place to stick your chop sticks when you’re not using them.  That would be a big “wrong” as it resembles how incense sticks are placed when being burned while praying for the dead.  Traditionally the rice should be eaten until there is not one grain left. It’s considered the staple food and Chinese parents used the ole “starving people in America” saying to encourage children to eat their rice (just kidding about that). Leave your chop sticks lying against the plate or chop stick holder not flat on the table.

In most areas of China the food is still placed in the center of the table on a revolving piece of glass and all participants eat from the same plates.  You will have a small bowel, small plate to hold all the bones and cup for tea in front of you on the table. The idea is to pick up a one mouthful serving from the center and promptly deposit it into your mouth. One trick is to lean over your plate while depositing anything into your mouth. If by chance you drop it it will fall onto your plate and not in your lap. The Chinese eat this way always. There is a constant bobbing of the head. In some areas serving chop sticks are now used and its being encouraged by the government for health reasons. Use them to bring food from the lazy susan to your bowel, then pick it up with your personal chop sticks. You can identify this when the servers bring plates of food in there will be a set of chop sticks placed on the food dishes. The lazy susan is turned to bring food in front of you and passing plates is not encouraged. The lazy susan is to be turned clock wise. Each time a new dish arrives your hosts will turn the lazy susan so the new item is in front of you. 
As the honored guest you should have the first serving.  Take some and try it even if only a very small serving.  It’s kind of a insult to show the host and person who ordered the food that you don’t like his choices. Always leave the last piece on the plate and respectfully claim to be too full to eat anymore at the end of the meal.  Taking the last piece of anything means the host didn’t order enough. There are a few dishes like special dessert type cakes that are ordered so there is just enough for one each but they usually will be served to you by one of the servers.

Note; bones -

Food for the most part in China is prepared with the bones still attached.  Take a chicken or duck or what ever and cube it up in to eatable portions with a meat clever.  Fish is not filleted which I have a lot of trouble with.  Lots of interesting bones to deal with like turtle and of course most sea and shell foods come with shells and or bones still attached.  Eel is an interesting item!  So here’s the deal, put the whole thing into your mouth and while chewing try to separate the meat from the bone as best you can.  SPIT, yes you heard me right, spit the bone out onto the plate provided or onto the table in front of you.  Of course once again bend over so your head is less than a foot away from the table when you do that.  We’re not talking about a watermelon seed spitting contest here!

Wine anyone?

Then suddenly your host will ask if you’d like some wine.  Ah, finally something that you can manage, a little white wine or something. Wrong again! What you are about to experience is a rice whiskey. 25 to 75 proof whiskey! It’s not cheap and the stronger the more expensive.  I guess the only comparison I personally have to it was one time I tasted home brewed moonshine. I think you could burn this stuff in your car just fine!

Gan Bei !!!!

The waitress will fill your little shot type glass and someone will make a toast. Gan bei (“dry the cup”) is often the words spoken.  That will ring in your ears for some time to come.  Keep in mind it is you against 6 or 7 of them. This is getting serious and you don’t want to have these guys showing you up. We Westerners are so competitive, a weakness when it comes to this game. Drinking from your glass without making a toast is not cool, so if you’re just thirsty try to control yourself.
Now touching glasses together is the same as everywhere else during the toast but one thing of note is that the idea is to show respect to the other by having your glass lower than the others when they meet.  It’s kind of a dance that you’ll lose all the time but make sure to try extra hard when the big guy toasts you.  Oh, and don’t worry, your empty glass will hardly touch down on the table before a overly helpful waitress will be there to fill it again. Also when toasting the person across the table might tap the glass of the lazy susan with his glass which is the same as the glasses touching.


Another thing that might happen is your hosts will constantly be trying to offer you cigarettes. That’s quickly changing in China at this moment but something like 68% of the men still smoke.  They just started to limit areas of smoking which is great. No more smoking in trains and train stations as well as in most other public areas.  Used to be the polite thing to do was to just accept it and if a man, put it behind your ear like a carpenter does his pencil.  I’m a little more bold and just wave them away. You can always clutch your heart as a sign your bad heart doesn’t allow you to be smoking.  They seem to accept that.
Turning down down alcoholic beverages is a little more tricky but also can be accomplished. You’ll need to claim a medical reason and should do it pre-meal.  Just have your translator cover it with the main handler at the company. Then your cup will be filled with a non alcoholic beverage for the toasts. Thing is successfully doing business in China is all about relationships and face. Getting falling down drunk with your hosts is a good thing but a very delicate procedure on your part. For God’s sake don’t think you’re actually going to drink your hosts under the table. They are quite good at it.  Not sure how their livers are doing but they can drink and you will lose every time. So cheat whenever the opportunity lends itself to doing so. Act more drunk then you are, openly admit defeat, don’t throw up on the table! Your performance will be reviewed by all 1,500 workers at the factory early the next morning. It’s amazing how fast the word travels.
This is one of the special and memorable treats that you will look back a fondly for years to come. So, enjoy, bon appettite.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter


  1. Peter DeVries Says:

    great article

  2. google Says:



Add comments:

  • RSS
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn