Chinese Dining Etiquette

As a guest at a meal, one should be particular about one’s appearance and determine whether to bring small gifts or good wine, according the degree of relationship with the master of the banquet. It is important to attend and be punctual. On arrival one should first introduce oneself, or let the master of the banquet do the introduction if unknown to others, and then take a seat in accordance with the master of the banquet’s arrangement. The seating arrangement is probably the most important part of Chinese dining etiquette. Our food tours provide tourists some great dining experience.

When eating a meal in China, people are expected to (according to Chinese customs) behave in a civilized manner, pay attention to table manners and practice good dining habits. In order to avoid offense diners should pay attention to the following points:

If the guest of honor is not seated, other people are not allowed to be seated. If he hasn’t eaten, others should not begin to eat. When making toasts, the first toast is made from the seat of honor and continuing down the order of prominence. See Chinese Guests and Hosts Customs

Let older people eat first, or if you hear an elder say "let's eat", you can start to eat. You should not steal a march on the elders.

You should hold your bowl with your thumb on the mouth of the bowl, first finger, middle finger the third finger supporting the bottom of the bowl and palm empty. If you don’t pick up your bowl, bend over the table and eat facing your bowl, it will be regarded as bad table manners. Moreover, it will have the consequence of compressing the stomach and restricting digestion.

When helping yourself to the dishes, you should take food first from the plates in front of you rather than those in the middle of the table or in front of others. It's bad manners to use your chopsticks to burrow through the food and "dig for treasure" and keep your eyes glued to the plates. It is not good manners to pick up too much food at a time. You should behave elegantly. When taking food, don’t nudge or push against your neighbor. Don’t let the food splash or let soup or sauce drip onto the table. When finding your favorite dish, you should not gobble it up as quickly as possible or put the plate in front of yourself and proceed to eat like a horse. You should consider others at the table. If there is not much left on a plate and you want to finish it, you should consult others. If they say they don’t want any more, then you can eat proceed.

When eating, you should close your mouth to chew food well before you swallow it, which is not only a requirement of etiquette, but also better for digestion. You should by no means open your mouth wide, fill it with large pieces of food and eat up greedily. Don’t put too much food into your mouth at a time to avoid leaving a gluttonous impression. Neither should you stretch your neck, open your mouth wide and extend your tongue to catch food you are lifting to your mouth. If there is food around your mouth, use a tissue or a napkin to wipe it, instead of licking it with your tongue. When chewing food, don’t make noises. It is best not to talk with others with your mouth full. Be temperate in laughing lest you spew your food or the food goes down your windpipe and causes choking. If you need to talk, you should speak little and quietly.

When spitting out bones or other inedible parts of the meal, use chopsticks or a hand to take them and put them on the table in front of you instead of spitting them directly onto the table or the ground. If you want to cough or sneeze, use your hand or a handkerchief to cover your mouth and turn away. If you find something unpleasant in your mouth when chewing or phlegm in the throat, you should leave the dinner table to spit it out.

You should try to refill your bowl with rice yourself and take the initiative to fill the bowls of elders with rice and food from the dishes. If elders fill your bowl or add food to your bowl, you should express your thanks.

Concentrate on the meal. Watching television, reading or carrying on some other activity while having a meal is considered a bad habit.

There are also certain rules and conventions relating to chopsticks:

  • Do not stick chopsticks vertically into your food when not using them, especially not into rice, as this will make Chinese people think of funerals. Only at funerals are chopsticks (or sticks of incense) stuck into the rice that is put onto the altar.
  • Do not wave your chopsticks around in the air too much or play with them.
  • Do not stab or skewer food with your chopsticks. Pick food up by exerting sufficient inward pressure on the chopsticks to grasp the food securely and move it smoothly to your mouth or bowl. It is consider bad form to drop food, so ensure it is gripped securely before carrying it. Holding one’s bowl close to the dish when serving oneself or close to the mouth when eating helps.
  • To separate a piece of food into two pieces, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other. This needs much practice.
  • Some consider it unhygienic to use the chopsticks that have been near (or in) one’s mouth to pick food from the central dishes. Serving spoons or chopsticks can be provided, and in this case you will need remember to alternate between using the serving chopsticks to move food to your bowl and your personal chopsticks for transferring the food to your mouth.

Some restaurants in China have forks available and all will have spoons. If you are not used to chopsticks, you can ask the restaurant staff to provide you with a fork or spoon.

Related Reading

Hi, I'm Ruru Zhou
I updated this article on April 1, 2014
See all my travel articles
follow this pageChina Highlights

Questions and Answers About Chinese Dining Etiquette

noah 2013-04-10
Show Answer
can i get a trip very cheap to china

How cheap, please?

Whitney Liao replied on 2013-04-11
Paige 2012-04-19
Show Answer
Can You eat off of other peoples plate?
Paige 2012-04-19
Show Answer
Can You eat off of other peoples plate?
Deanna 2012-02-06
Show Answer
Is there an equivelent to the 'rest and finish' positions of flatware for chopsticks? If a holder is provided, should they be placed there or on the plate when not in use? Where /how are they placed when the meal is complete?
Yes, there is a chopsticks rest for holding chopsticks. You can place the holder beside the plate (generally at the right). Lynn Ye replied on 2012-02-07
Good mannered westerner 2011-01-01
Show Answer
This blog is "fake" in fact the majority of Chinese have terrible dinner table manners, they eat with their mouths open, make smacking and chewing noises, slurp liquid food, put chop sticks in their mouths and then dip the chopsticks ( plus their mouth saliva) into shared food bowls on the table. Obviously the risk of spreading disease by not using serving spoons from shared food dishes is huge and one of the main reasons for disease spreading so fast between people in China.
I agree in that I haven't seen all of these manners followed very often. I think most Chinese people like Westerners or anywhere else are a little more lenient in informal settings. However, I think this could be an accurate description of a more formalized setting and the manners that are expected to accompany it. guest replied on 2012-09-01
I agree, this habit of eating with chop sticks ( bits of wood or plastic ) putting them into your mouth and then dipping them into shared food bowls is dirty, disgusting, uneducated. It is obvious that once you put any eating tool in your mouth it has your saliva on it and you should not then transfer your saliva into shared food bowls. I'm not surprised that diseases move quickly through the Chinese population. Washing hands in public toilet places, they never provide soap or hot water or suitable hand drying facilities. In fact the majority of people I notice in the mens public toilets in China don't even bother washing their hands properly - another disease spreader. guest replied on 2011-01-01
April Offer $25 Coupon
  1. Send your inquiry before Apr. 30, 2014, and we will email you a $25 coupon.
  2. The coupon is valid till Dec. 31, 2014, for paying tour packages worth $250 or up.
  3. The coupon cannot be used for paying flight tickets, train tickets, hotel rooms and day trips.
Travel Advice or Question? Ask us here
Do you want to book a tour/hotel/Wi-Fi. etc.
Your Name Your Email