Chinese Table Manners - Table Manners In China

Chinese Table Manners Basics: Going to china? Wondering about Table Manners In China? Or simply going to a Chinese restaurant and wanting to learn more about Chinese Table Manners?

table manners in china
Don't be bewildered by the dish presentations because sometimes they look like they come from Mars. I've been dining at chinese restaurants all my life because of my heritage, and still often I've eaten things I've never seen before. They are just presented differently and cooked differently.

Chinese Table Manners, Table Manners In China

A "Family Affair" Dining Style

Usually this is how it works.

You often find yourself seated in a big group in a round table. Due to the variety of dishes to be enjoyed, asians tend to invite more people out for dinner to enjoy a wider variety.

Everything is to be shared, except your own bowl of rice and individual bowl of soup (served from a large bowl in the middle). The dishes to be eaten with rice is placed in the middle of the round table.

table manners in china

A Chinese meal usually means you will be served a bowl of white rice with a pair of chopsticks and a spoon, but if you are not comfortable in using chopsticks, you may request for a fork and spoon and a plate for that matter.

You will also be served a cup of Chinese tea which you are not obligated to drink. You may request for water or a soft drink instead.

You may be given napkins which you can place on your lap though it's not mandatory. They are usually for cleaning your mouth once you are done.


Unlike non-Chinese restaurants, the louder and noisier the restaurant, the more it is deemed to have reputation. Everyone is happy and laughing and dining which shows that the food is really good. Everyone is talking and raving about the food. That is somewhat Chinese culture when it comes to dining together.

Chinese Table Manners, Table Manners In China

Chinese Ordering Etiquette


Someone will order all the dishes or a collective decision will be made, definitely ordering the restaurant's specialty.

There may be an opinion on the dish, such as the Four Seasons Chinese restaurant in London is famous for this duck dish, and so it will definitely be ordered. Whether or not it has won awards, it does not matter. Most of these 'opinions' are passed on by word of mouth.

There will be a large number of dishes ordered, anywhere from 6 - 10 dishes.

Even though you may be in an English speaking country, in a Chinese restaurant, it is acceptable to order in Mandarin or Cantonese and is not viewed as rude.


They are placed in the center of the round table, where they are served in 'communal' or 'common dish plates' i.e. everyone helps themselves to the plate.

They will be served according to when they are cooked, so often it comes quickly one after the other. In trickier dishes, they often come when the first 2-3 dishes have already been consumed. It doesn't matter, and the waiter removes the empty plates.

It is common for the waiter or the diners to scrap the remaining dish into another half-eaten plate to make room for new dishes. This is not rude, but viewed as a practical method of saving place.


You are not obligated to take any dish if you do not like it. It's free and easy for all. Obviously, it will be inconsiderate to eat too much of everything. There is a common understanding of sharing with everyone.

If there is say, one prawn left on the dish plate, the common courtesy is to ask around if anyone wants it? Usually you will receive a kind response to 'go ahead and have the last piece.'

Chinese Table Manners, Table Manners In China

"Double Dipping" Is Accepted

Due to the nature of dining - everyone sharing dishes, a certain "double dipping" is accepted.

table manners in china
It's generally more accepted to reach, cross, pass than in european dining etiquette. However I still believe in utmost consideration such as politely asking.

As all the dishes are served on "communal plates", it is not rude to "double dip". That means, you are free to use your chopsticks to grab food unto your bowl or plate. And again and again when you want more of it, you help yourself to it.

If a serving spoon is provided, please use the serving spoon. While you 'dip' your chopsticks to grab some vegetables or meat, you are considerate not to 'stir' your chopsticks into the food, or whatever you grab does not touch the surrounding meat. Or at least keep minimal contact of your chopsticks with the other food on the communal dish plates.

Chinese Table Manners are not as strict as European or American table manners in terms of double dipping but its general consideration.

It is also a courteous gesture for the male person beside you who has longer arms to put food on your service plate. It is generally not necessary to ask if you would like it. He would put a couple of dishes on your service plate so that you do not have to 'reach'. It is good manners for the guy to put food on your plate first before his.

It also doesn't matter if he has already used his chopsticks.

It's common for friends to do so for each other as well. It is viewed as a nice thing.

If you do not like or want to eat what is put on your plate, either eat it a bit or just say, "Oh I'm not a fan of broccoli, but thank you so much, would you like to have it?" It is okay to transfer the food on your service plate to theirs.

Chinese Table Manners, Table Manners In China

Standing or Reaching For Your Food

It is not rude to stand up and reach for a dish. As everything is placed in the middle of a round table which may not have a lazy Susan.

However, a more refined alternative is to ask politely for it to be passed to you or hold out your service plate for someone sitting near that dish to scoop some for you. After which you then bring back to your side of the table and eat it with your bowl of rice.

In restaurants where you have the convenience of a lazy Susan, it is general consideration to wait until there is moment where no one is taking food from the common dish plates to turn it around.

Chinese Table Manners, Table Manners In China

Chopstick Etiquette

Never stick your chopsticks upright in your rice because that reminds Asians of the 'Praying to the Dead' death ritual where joss sticks are used that look similar to chopsticks.

Also, when seated, never start reaching or eating food served on dishes until the host starts or until everybody is ready.

Usually, there will be something muttered in the asian language, that says, "Everybody eat!" or "Eat" or sometimes children will 'ask', "Mom, eat. Dad, eat." as a sign of respect. They also will starting only after they have started. It is similar when the French say, "Bon Apetit!"

Chinese Table Manners, Table Manners In China

Visual Example Chinese Table Setting

Just for your information, this will be your individual chinese table setting at a chinese restaurant.

table manners in china

Thank you for reading "Chinese Table Manners"!

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