Chinese Dining Customs and Etiquettes
Formal banquets are held to celebrate some traditional Chinese festivals, like the Chinese New Year, the Moon Festival and other traditional Chinese Festivals. Each Festival is associated with particular food, such as Chinese moon cakes for the Moon Festival, or Chinese New Year’s Cake for the Spring Festival. A Chinese Banquet host will not expect a visitor to know all the traditions associated with a Chinese dining customs and etiquettes. But the visitor, who knows some of Chinese dining etiquettes and customs, will pay great respect to the host, and sometimes, even avoid the awkward moment due to the culture difference.
Welcome and Seating
Hosts usually welcome guests at the entry door. If the dinner is held at a restuarant, guests are supposed to enter the room before the host, and the honored guest is supposed to enter first. At the dining table, guests are honorably seated directly opposite of the host. The host is usually seating near the service door. If the dinner is held in the host's home, the host is nearest to the kitchen, so that he can bring each dish to the table more quickly. If the dinner is held in a restaurant, the host will be in the least-favored position, sitting where the waiter will stand while serving the food.
Meal and Alcohol Drinking
During a formal Chinese Banquet, food is brought in many successive courses. Hosts usually apologize politely in advance for the “ill-prepared” meal about to be served.
Alcohol plays an important role at banquets. The meal begins with a toast by the host with welcome speech. Much drinking and toasting accompanies. At a Chinese banquet, the food itself is the medium that hosts use to convey the good wishes and the joy of the celebration.
Tea is usually serviced before the meal. While traveling in China, especially in Southern China, the western visitors may be surprised by how Chinese tap their fingers on the table when others pour tea for them. The finger-tapping on the table is a custom of expressing thanks for pouring the tea. This custom is said to date back to the Qin Dynasty. While making an undercover tour to South China, a Qin emperor visited a teahouse. In order to maintain his cover as an ordinary member of a party of travelers, the emperor poured tea for his companions. His companions started to acknowledge this astonishing honor by bowing in the usual fashion but the emperor told them they could simply tap the table with three fingers - two of which would represent their prostrate limbs, while the third finger would symbolize their bowed heads.
Some Old habits:
During a formal Chinese Banquets, each guest may be expected to make at least one toast during the meal. This custom may lead to guests challenging each other to drinking games throughout the evening.
Other old Chinese dining habit have been known to make some western visitors uncomfortable, is some diners spitting and laying discarded bones on the tablecloth. This habit is dying out, now that most restaurants provide side-plates for bones.