Chinese Business Culture
Entertaining For Business Success
Business lunches are growing in popularity here. Business breakfasts, however, are not a part of Chinese business culture, except in Guangdong, Hangzhou and Fujian province where the 'Morning Tea' is very popular.
Evening banquets are the most popular occasions for business entertaining. Generally, these events start between 5:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m. and last for two hours. If you are the guest, you should arrive on time.
If you wish, arrive around 15 minutes early to a banquet; your 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.
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 host. The most senior guest of honor 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 by suggesting the first drink. Then, the rest of the company can proceed with the meal. If you are the host, take the first piece of the most valued food and put it on your guest of honor's plate after leading the first drink. This will signify the beginning of the eating and is consider a friendly gesture.
It is not uncommon for a host to order enough food for seven 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 waiter or waitress to serve it early, particularly if the food is spicy.
During a meal, as many as 20-30 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. 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 'yin 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 bowl 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.
Do not put the end of the chopstick in your mouth.
Try not to drop your chopsticks, as this is considered a sign of bad luck.
When eating rice, follow Chinese custom by holding the bowl close to your mouth.
Scorpions, locusts, snake skin, bile, dog meat, soft-shell tortoise 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. 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. Prepare some medical excuses for yourself to avoid drinking heavily; if you really wish to avoid alcohol, they will accept medical excuses.
Toasting, usually with beer, wine or Chinese white liquors, is an important part of Chinese business etiquette.
You will often find three glasses on your table: a glass for your drink of choice [toast with this glass], a wine glass, and a shot glass for a liquor called 'maotai' or 'wu liang ye.'
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. Two popular toasts are 'ganbei' ['bottoms up!'] and 'kai wei' ['starting the appetite!'].
Sometimes, the Chinese enjoy testing the ability of a foreigner to handle his or her alcohol, especially 'er guo tou', 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. Most government operated hotels and restaurants prohibit acceptance of tips. It is sometimes expected, however, in some of the bigger hotels and by younger service personnel, in the more opened cities.
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 businessperson 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.