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  • people having a business lunch in China

    Business Lunches in China: Everything You Need to Know

    people having a business lunch in China

    Business lunches in China are becoming increasingly popular as an opportunity to network with business associates, even if you don’t end up talking business. The lunchtime gatherings serve the crucial function of bringing associates together to build trust, unwind, and get to know each other outside of the business environment. If you want to leave a positive, lasting impression while you’re doing business in China, some tips can help.

    Dress and Pre-Meal Decorum

    You typically can’t go wrong with wearing formal business attire to business lunches in China. Even if your hosts are wearing jeans, they may be intending to introduce you to other associates, friends, or family members.

    The business card exchange is crucial when doing business in China, so bring one that features English on one side and Mandarin/Cantonese on the other. Expect to swap cards with most people you encounter.

    Present your card using both hands, with the Chinese side facing upward. Take a moment to look over any cards you receive, ensuring you pay the highest respects to the person with the highest status during the meal.

    The person with the highest status usually sits facing the door or on the east side of the room, surrounded by other high-status guests. Do not sit down until your host has indicated where you should sit. Address other guests by their titles, although you want to leave out prefixes such as “deputy,” “vice,” or “assistant.” 

    Gifts are typically given only after signing an agreement or completing an extended negotiation. Meet-and-greet business lunches in China wouldn’t necessarily merit one, although lunches after a deal would.

    Food to Expect

    Business lunches in China are often held in a restaurant’s private room. Unless you’re familiar with the menu, allow your host to order the food. Most large lunches consist of soup, different vegetables and meats, and plenty of rice. You can expect the food to be hearty and exotic, and you will likely spend an extended amount of time eating and socializing during the gathering.

    Chopsticks are optional; feel free to request a knife and fork if they make you more comfortable. Mention any dietary requirements before the meeting is set to ensure the chosen restaurant has options for you. Don’t start eating or drinking until your host does.

    Discussion and Drinks

    As mentioned, don’t talk business unless your host initiates it. Discussions can instead revolve around complimenting the food and your host for his wisdom in his culinary selections. If business talk begins after drinking, any agreements made may not necessarily hold weight the next day.

    Drink moderately, taking care not to get drunk. Feel free to say you’ve had enough if you have. Ask for someone to walk you to the bathroom if you’re not familiar with the restaurant’s layout, so you don’t wander through other private rooms.  

    A small toast to everyone is acceptable if you know the guests. Continuously toasting various people in the room can be considered showy. Since toasts are a form of recognition, you can toast the boss personally by getting up and walking over to his chair. Clink your glass below the lip of other glasses when toasting those who are older or have higher statuses than you.

    Paying and Tipping

    The host is the one who pays the bill, although you can offer to pay if you mention it before the meal. Fighting over the bill is standard for business lunches in China, making it necessary to mention your intention to pay beforehand to avoid arguments. Tipping in restaurants is simply not done.

    One last bit of info for business lunches in China is what to say before and after a meal. Before eating or drinking anything, guests typically say “youyi,” or “here’s to friendship.” After the lunch, it’s customary to thank the host sincerely.

    While business lunches in China may feel difficult to navigate at first, these tips will help you make a positive impression and form strong business relationships.

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