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A guide to understanding Chinese tableware

Chinese table setting is more complex than you think!

· Chinese Elegance

When having a meal in a Chinese restaurant, do you ever wonder about the table setting and use of tableware?

Chinese table etiquette is broad and profound, with differences between regions. Let’s now learn about the formal table setting and usage of each tableware in Chinese restaurants!

Chinese tableware basically has 6 categories: cup, plate, bowl, saucer, chopsticks, spoon.

Based on the above picture, let's explain step by step every piece of tableware.

① Tea glass/tea cup

They are used to serve water or tea. The waiter brews tea in a teapot, pours it into a tea cup and distributes it to each guest. The host shouldn’t fill tea cups to the top, as this can spill the liquid and burn others. In China, pouring tea to the brim means driving someone away!

② Glasses/Wine goblet

These are used to pour white/red wine or Chinese liquor. Your host will always make sure it’s full, sometimes even filled to the top, so be careful!

③ Soup Spoon

Used for soup, porridge, sugar water and more occasionally for fried rice.

④ Bowl

Rice bowls and soup bowls are different, with rice bowls being for staple food and soup bowls being slightly bigger for holding soups. In the South of China, people are used to serve food from the communal dishes into their bowl, while in the North the usage of bowls is limited to rice, noodles or soup.

⑤ Sauce bowl

The small bowl is used for dipping sauce. Typically, this would be Chinese vinegar, and more occasionally, soy sauce.

⑥ Wet washcloth/washcloth saucer

The wet washcloth is to wipe our hands before and during the meal. It will be brought by the waiter at the beginning of the meal and places into a saucer.

⑦ Plate

Regional differences apply in the usage of plates. It is either used for serving food, like people do in the North, or to keep non-edible pieces (bones, fish bones, shells, etc.), like it is done in the South. If your plate needs to be changed, it is fine to ask for a clean one.

⑧ Long spoon

It can be used as a communal utensil or tableware for serving food into your bowl or plate.

⑨ Chopsticks

Each guest has at least one pair of chopsticks. In upscale restaurants, you may find a second pair of chopsticks that is used only for serving food from the communal dishes to your bowl or plate. Do use them systematically as it is more hygienic and is even more relevant in current times.


In fancy Chinese restaurants, guests will find a cloth napkin in their plate. The etiquette is to tuck one corner under your plate and let it hang on your laps. If you need to dab your mouth during the meal, you may use the wet washcloth.

When dining out, people in the South of China are used to wash their personal tableware with boiling hot water. This habit is related to the weather. Hot and humid climates are prone to bacteria and hot water can disinfect and wash away the dust on the surface.

You are now ready to enjoy a delicious Chinese meal while respecting the ritual of etiquette, so useful when you want to give a good impression to the guests around you!

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