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Dining in Hong Kong: Etiquette
While dining in Hong Kong restaurants is relatively relaxed, there are some important things which you should pay attention to. Tipping, for instance, is only common in more upscale restaurants, even though they charge you an additional service charge, too.
Things get more complicated when you are invited for a formal dinner at one of the fancier restaurants. Your host will not expect you to be familiar with all the traditions associated with formal dining in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, knowing some of them will help you make an excellent first impression.
Dining in Hong Kong: Table Manners
There are some major changes to Western habits. While you are dining in Hong Kong, feel free to lift your bowl to your mouth, slurp, and scrape the plate. This is fine at a street eatery or in a formal restaurant. In both, though, there are other rules you should try and follow.
Always leave some food in your bowl and never take the last pieces of food that are left on the tray. Otherwise, your host may feel embarrassed because he or she did not offer you enough to eat. If you would like a second serving, you should still refuse it at least once to avoid seeming greedy.
Tea is the most traditional drink and is served constantly when dining in Hong Kong. Before you refill your own cup, always refill everyone else’s cup first – even if theirs is not empty. If somebody else refills your cup, it is customary to show your appreciation by tapping the table with three fingers.
Dining in Hong Kong: Chopsticks
If you are a non-Asian expat who has just arrived in Hong Kong, nobody will expect you to be able to eat with chopsticks. However, you should definitely learn to master this skill. Dining in Hong Kong will be so much easier, given that most small restaurants do not even have forks.
When you are not using your chopsticks, lay them down in front of you or put them on the chopstick rest. Never stick them into food, especially not into rice, when dining in Hong Kong. This is done at funerals with rice that is meant to be put on the altar. Don’t pick up large chunks of food, either: tear them apart first.
Dining in Hong Kong: Formal Dinners
If you are invited to a formal event, dining in Hong Kong becomes much more complicated. First of all, dress well. Great emphasis is put on appearance, and this makes sure you show respect to your host.
Once at the restaurant, wait to be told where to sit. As in China, there is a specific seating order to every formal dinner, based on seniority and company hierarchy. The seat of honor, reserved for the guest with the highest status or a foreign guest of honor, is usually the one in the center facing east or facing the entrance. Others with higher status then sit in close proximity to the seat of honor, while those with lower positions sit further away. The host takes the least prominent seat, generally the one nearest the kitchen entrance or service door.
Normally, when dining in Hong Kong, the host orders a large variety of dishes which are then shared by everybody. Once you are seated and the food is served, do not start eating until the host begins to eat or tells you to begin.
During the meal, you should try at least a little bit of everything. Don’t be offended if the host or somebody else sitting close to you simply puts a dish into your bowl for you that you should taste. One last piece of advice: If you are ever unsure about how to behave, simply watch what others do and emulate their behavior. In this way, you will probably be on the safe side.
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