6 "Polite" Things You Do at a Chinese Restaurant That Are Actually Rude
As a Chinese kid, going to a Chinese restaurant wasn't just about the meal, it was a lesson in Chinese etiquette among my aunties, grandparents, cousins and parents. And although I didn't totally notice it when I was younger, now that I'm an adult who regularly dines out with friends, I've realized that there are certain things that some people do at Chinese restaurants that they think are polite but are actually rude. If you're dining with people who have Chinese heritage, you can look to them for guidance. And if not, keep these tips in mind the next time you're at your favorite Chinese restaurant.
1. You Hush People for Talking Too Loudly at Your Table
You may have noticed that Chinese restaurants can often be loud, and it may seem like everyone is shouting. That's typically because Chinese meals are most often enjoyed with multiple people, if not multiple families. And with so many people at the table, it's not uncommon to have multiple conversations happening at the same time. While in many restaurants it would be considered rude to have multiple conversations going, this isn't seen as rude in a Chinese restaurant. Resist the urge to quiet your fellow diners, and enjoy the boisterous atmosphere instead.
2. You Try to Split the Check
Paying for the meal is seen as respectful and generous and is often an important way that the elders show their care for the family. So when the bill comes, it's not unusual to see two, or more, Chinese families trying to snatch it figuratively and literally from the others. Fighting over the bill is almost as much a part of the feast as the food! This isn't rude, it's part of the gratitude that a family is trying to show for the others. Some people go as far as pretending to go to the bathroom, but are really secretly paying the bill. Younger generations are likely to be more open to splitting a bill, but if there are elders at the table, don't be surprised if they argue about who should pay.
3. You Order Your Own Meal
Chinese meals are meant to be shared with everyone at the table. That's why you see so many round tables with turntables in the center. Typically, an elder or auntie will take responsibility for ordering all the dishes for the table. If there is a dish that you would like to try, let the person ordering know—but don't expect it to be served to just you. If you'd like to have a dish all to yourself, order takeout.
4. You Stab the Food with Your Chopsticks
Chopsticks are not to be used like forks, and it's considered rude to use them like a spear and stab your food. If you don't know how to properly use them, most Chinese restaurants provide forks (ask if they're not already at the table). Also, speaking of chopstick etiquette, avoid pointing them at people like a wand, and don't stick your chopsticks upright in your rice—this mimics incense burned during funerals.
5. You Wait for the Server to Come to You
While in Western restaurants you may wait for your server to come to you, it's not considered rude to flag down a waiter or waitress at a Chinese restaurant. You can raise your hand or catch their eye when you are ready to order, if you need more hot water for your tea, or if you want to pay the bill. One note: Please do this in a respectful way without shouting or waving profusely.
6. You Make a Huge Plate of Food
Since the meal is meant to be shared, everyone at the table should get some of each dish placed in the center of the table. Taking a large helping of the food means someone else might not be able to try some of the dish. So start with a small serving first and help yourself to seconds once everyone else has gotten to try it. Also, if you are at a buffet, you can always help yourself to more food later, but the restaurant has to throw away the remnants of the huge plate of food your eyes thought your stomach could handle. Pace yourself and be cognizant that taking smaller portions also means you get to try a wider variety of dishes, including ones you may not typically order. Who knows, you might find a new favorite to share with your friends next time.