So your firm in The City by the Bay finally won over that big client from a Chinese company after a long time of negotiating, and all you have to go through now is a business dinner with them in one of the best San Francisco Chinese restaurants; sounds easy, right? Well, that depends, really—there are actually pitfalls when it comes to food etiquette that might inadvertently offend your guest, so to be sure, avoid things like...
Sticking your chopsticks vertically on rice.
Resist any temptation to place your chopsticks in the middle of your bowl of rice—you know what that looks like? Incense for the dearly departed. Indeed, the Chinese consider this placement of chopsticks offensive because you just put a harbinger of death on the dinner table. To avoid this, make sure to look for the chopstick rest (there's always one in restaurants) and place your chopsticks on it.
Occupying the seat of honor.
In Chinese culture, the seat facing the entrance is referred to as the "seat of honor", which is to be occupied only by the host—but since you're in a restaurant, it doesn't really matter, right? Well, it might be a nice touch to offer this particular seat to your client, so he gets a feel of how important he is to your company.
Flipping the fish.
When the waiter serves you a whole fish, what do you do? Here are some tips from an article in The Straits Times:
Fish is usually served at a Chinese meal as the term "have fish" in Mandarin sounds the same as having a surplus. When a fish is served whole, once one side is eaten, never flip the fish over!
This custom started in Chinese fishing communities, when the fish symbolises a boat. So flipping it over indicates flipping the livelihood over. So how do you get to the other side? Simply use the chopsticks and grab the backbone and lift up. Set it on the side of the dish and there, more deliciousness to consume.
Forgetting to tap the table.
It's bad practice for a host or anyone in the dining table to let the tea run dry on any of the cups, which is why you should constantly have it refilled. If your client chooses to do this, don't forget to give the table a gentle tap as a simple way to say thank you.
So whenever you're a guest in a Chinese client or colleague's home, or dining with one in famous Chinese restaurants in San Francisco like Chili House SF, be sure to know enough of the necessary etiquette to keep from offending your companion, including other diners in the restaurant.
(Source: 8 Chinese dining etiquette tips, The Straits Times)