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8 Tips: Etiquette at Chinese New Year Luncheons

Chinese New Year is literally the most important festival for the Chinese. Popular in countries with a domination of Chinese, food is probably one of the most important components in our celebrations and many companies also in Singapore take this chance to reconnect with their clients over a hearty meal.

While Chinese New Year is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the world, here are 8 etiquette rules for you to score a good impression in front of your clients:

1. Make it a RED letter day – pun intended

This literally means wearing red. Red symbolizes fortune and luck and according to old wives’ tales, wearing red is believed to scare away spirits of bad fortune. Rule of thumb, bright color clothing (best if they are new) is preferred and black or white is a strict no-no as it is symbolic of mourning and death.

2. Auspicious greetings and wishes

Chinese New Year is probably the most important 15-day period in the year that we should not just avoid negative words and phrases, but also auspicious-tise our greetings and wishes. Regardless of whether you are Chinese or speak mandarin, it is crucial to learn a couple of Chinese New Year greetings as they may come in handy:

新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè) – Happy New Year
恭喜发财 (gong xǐ fā cái) – Happiness and prosperity
心想事成 (xīn xiǎng shì chéng) – May all your wishes come true
事业有成 (shì yè yǒu chéng) – Success in your career
步步高升 (bù bù gāo shēng) – Promotions at every step

3. Leave work discussions for later

All work and no play makes us dull (and fake). Take this chance to get to know your clients better. Share about experiences, ideas and be (genuinely) interested in their family and background. I always like to ask my clients about their recent vacation or project that they work on because these are the easiest topics to kickstart conversations. Even though there’s a ROI (return on investment) with every entertainment dollar, organize luncheons with an open mind. Don’t expect to win the million-dollar project just because you bought your clients an extravagant meal. Win it with your capability, not with your wallet.

4. Show hospitality (even when it’s not Chinese New Year)

As Todd Newton says “hosting is a delicate dance of timing, the ability to read the room and the art of conversation”. Offer your guests food before taking some yourself, and do so with the common serving spoon/fork instead of your own, no matter how close you are to your guests. Do divide your time so you get to spend quality time with each of your guests. My strategy is to bring my colleagues with me so that I don’t feel like I need to rush through conversations.

5. Chopsticks Mystery

Growing up, I always made the mistake of planting my chopsticks in the bowl but it’s a big no-no as it indicates worshipping of ancestors. When you are not using them, put them flat down on the table and when you are done with the meal, put them flat on the bowl. Also, however convenient it seems, avoid pointing someone or something with chopsticks.

chinese new year chop sticks huone singapore

6. Leave the ‘paiseh piece’ alone

Whether at a business or social luncheon, it is common that everyone avoids the paiseh piece = last piece of food on a shared dish. No matter how hungry you are or how much you think of the hungry children in Africa, never take the last piece from a serving tray as it shows that the food provided by the host (you in this case) has been insufficient.

7. Go there hungry but not too hungry

Research has shown that people tend to be even more enthusiastic in offering others with food at festive luncheons so be sure to go there hungry. It is rude to refuse or not eat food that has been offered to you. Another tip, be sure to check in on allergies and dietary preferences as the last thing you want is a medical emergency!

8. Go big or go home

As the host, always pick up the tab and do not ask to go dutch. If you have a budget to keep to, pick a venue that you can afford. It is okay to limit the number of guests if you really need to but not okay if you allow your clients to bring as many colleagues and stinge on the meal. You will be better off sending a hamper with flowers.