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Eating in Chinese Restaurants Shopping & Leisure

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The atmosphere in Chinese restaurants is known as "renao". It means "hot and noisy" and that is just the way that the Chinese like it! When the Chinese eat out, they like to have fun - the idea of expensive wine and candlelight dinners is definitely not their style.


There are a few do's and don'ts to remember when you are dining with some Chinese friends. The most important thing to remember is to allow others to pour your drinks, and at the same time, keep your eye on their drinks to make sure they stay topped up. If you help yourself, it is a sign that the hosts or friends are not taking good care of you.

Bones from fish or chicken can usually be spat onto the table or tablecloth in front of you or onto the floor.

One of the first things you will do at the table is to drink tea. Be sure to pour tea for those around you first and your own teacup last. It is considered bad form to fill your own teacup first, or even worse, to only fill your own teacup. Even if the teacups of those around you are full, you should dribble a little into their cup anyway, this is considered polite. If you are the host and have invited other guests to join you, you should make sure your guests always have a full plate and cup.

If you are invited to be a guest at a meal, your host will want to ensure that there is more than enough food for everyone. Don't be surprised if your host orders more food to "save face" and prove his generousity and graciousness. Also, don't be surprised if you find your host or others dining with you, putting choice morsels into your rice bowl for you - whether you ask for it or not. This is another sign of generousity and please be sure to accept gracefully.

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Restaurant Wars
It's not uncommon to see people fighting over the bill in Chinese restaurants. They will try to pull the bill away from someone else at their table and shout with red faces at each other. It is considered polite to offer once or even twice to pay the bill, even if you are the guest. There may be very loud protests to show that they are sincere in wanting to pay the bill themselves, but often it is just a bluff.

If you would like to pay the bill without a fight at the table, you can pay the bill the day before or you can sneak off to the washroom and pay the bill at that time. Your Chinese companions will likely show displeasure when they find out, but it will often be welcomed. You have to use your own best judgement when to pay and when not to pay. Please remember, it is not appropriate to always be on the receiving end. In most Chinese restaurants, unless you are in a fancy hotel or very large, modern restaurant, you will want to wash your dishes and utensils before using them. In China, there is not always hot running water for washing dishes and sometimes, the dishes may just get rinsed off – or maybe they are cleaned – but not protected from cockroaches and mice and rats. So, it is best to sanitize everything before beginning – unless you can see that everything is sparkling clean.

Share the Food
The entrees you order will be served in bowls and your rice will come in single serving bowls. Entrees are shared dishes. Just take a little at a time from each dish. The dishes usually are not passed around – you must reach to get what you want. If I couldn't reach the dish I wanted, I would ask someone to help me reach the food. The would pick up the food for me and place it into my bowl. In big fancy restaurants and hotels, there are lazy susans, and the food moves around the table several times so you can choose what you like.

Table Setting in a Typical Chinese Restaurant
At a Chinese restaurant, you will generally find on the table a small teacup (without a handle) and a small plate, an empty rice bowl and your chopsticks. The small cup is for tea. The small dish is a refuse plate, for bones and grissle and anything else that is not edible.

Washing your dishes and choptsticks
The first thing you do is ask for a pot of green tea and a large bowl to be brought to your table.

If you have disposable wooden chopsticks, take them out of their wrapper, break apart, rub together lengthwise several times to remove any slivers of wood that might get into your food or your mouth, the set them on your small plate.

When the tea arrives, stand the chopsticks in the rice bowl or tea cup and pour the boiling tea down the length of the chopsticks. Then swirl the boiling water in the tea cup – making sure to rinse the edges where your lips will touch. Do the same with the rice bowl. Empty the boiling water into the large bowl. The waiter will take it away when you are finished. Don’t count on the table being clean – keep your chopsticks on your rice bowl when not in use. If any food should drop on the table – leave it there – it is considered unfit for eating after it has touched the table.



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