Banquets Toasting

Toasting is an indispensable component of the Chinese banquet and it begins when the principal host offers a welcoming toast. Toasts are typically short (2 to 4 minutes) and may consist of a simple welcome, a brief statement filled with platitudes, or a substantive comment on the visit. Chinese rarely hold their glass at shoulder length when toasting, it is considered respectful to try and toast your glass lower than other’s glasses.

Alcohol Cautions:

Several types of liquor are traditionally served at Chinese banquets (beer, wine, and baijiu (a potent liquor, of which the most famous brand is Maotai). Glasses are kept full during the meal to allow for toasting. Beer and wine may be sipped, but baijiu is traditionally downed at once like a western “shot” in toasts with the Chinese guests. The Chinese toast “gan bei” literally means “dry glass.” However, the tradition of emptying one’s glass at each toast is being tempered in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai where Western business etiquette has been more widely accepted. Increasingly, wine (frequently mixed with soda) is becoming the primary toasting drink in major cities. If you find yourself in a situation where baijiu is served, it is acceptable to drink less than the whole glass by saying “ban bei” (half a shot) or “sui yi” (as you wish).

It is also possible to beg out of drinking alcohol entirely by saying that you have an allergy or simply explaining that you do not drink. It also is acceptable to toast with a clear carbonated drink like 7-Up or Sprite; just let the waiter know quietly that this is what you would like to do. If you are being hosted at a dinner (not a banquet) you often will be asked to choose what you would like to drink. Western drinks and social habits are becoming the norm in many ways, and are accepted in most urban areas, however, it is advisable to handle such situations by stating your preferences as food and drink are ordered.