When most people eat Chinese food in the United States, they order it from a takeout restaurant. So when you visit a sit-down Chinese restaurant, you might not be quite sure what to order or how to order it. Some menu items are familiar, but other than that, this is a whole different experience from ordering takeout! Here are some tips to help you order effectively and adhere to common etiquette expectations.
1. Order dishes to share.
The Chinese culture is a sharing culture, and this applies when dining out, too. Everyone should not order their own dish. Instead, you should order several dishes for everyone at the table to share. A good guideline is to order the same number of dishes as you have diners, but if you have big appetites, ordering an extra entree or two is recommended. You will each be given separate plates, and the food will come on serving dishes that are placed in the center of the table. You can serve food onto your plates using the backs of the chopsticks — the end you do not place in your mouth.
2. Have the host or oldest guest order.
If you invited the others in the group out to dinner, you are considered the host. As such, you should place the order with the server when they come to your table. If there is no specific host in the group, then it is appropriate for the oldest diner at the table to place the order.
3. Order green tea.
Although in American culture, tea is something you might enjoy with dessert or on its own, in Chinese culture, green tea is often enjoyed with a meal. If the server does not automatically bring you green tea when you sit down, order a pot. It's one of those things that is just considered tradition, even if it seems a little odd at first.
4. Don't order too many spicy dishes.
If you and your fellow diners like spice, you should certainly order a couple of spicy dishes. But do order some less spicy options, too. This will keep your palates from getting overwhelmed, allowing you to enjoy each dish to its fullest.
If you need any additional advice or tips related to ordering, do not be afraid to ask your server. It's completely acceptable to ask for recommendations in Chinese restaurants, and servers usually know what's worth trying.