If you are invited to a banquet in China, prepare yourself for a meal to remember.
The banquet can consist of up to thirty dishes being served over a period of time and it is therefore wise to pace yourself. Try to eat a little of each dish rather than sticking to the one you recognize. It is traditional to leave some food — if you finish everything, this can be taken as a sign that you are still hungry!
The seating arrangements at a banquet are very complex and linked to perceptions of hierarchy and status. If you are invited, you will be shown where to sit. However if you are the host it is probably best to get some local advice on the best seating plan if you want to avoid insulting anybody.
The meal is usually coming to an end when the fruit is served and the hot towels given out. It is possible to leave after this stage of the proceedings — although the host is unlikely to initiate your departure.
Meals can be accompanied by a great deal of smoking — even during the courses. The idea of no-smoking restaurants hasn’t really taken off in China. It is acceptable to belch and slurp during the meal as this is taken as a sign of appreciation.
Alcohol will in invariably be consumed in quite large quantities during a formal banquet — mainly either beer or local clear alcohols which can be very potent. Although it is not really a problem if you drink a little too much, it is probably safest to be wary of unknown local liquors.
Traditionally, tipping was unusual in China, although it is starting to become more common in newer westernised establishments.