Just like Christmas shopping at the mall, dim sum brings out the best in people and the worst in people. Dim sum is a social affair so learning proper dim sum etiquette and manners is important. Here are six rules for staying on the good side of your dim sum mates so you will be invited to eat with them again.
1) Dim sum is for sharing. If there are three items in a dish and there are five of you, don’t take a whole item. Cut them in halves so each person can have a bite. Dishes should be placed in the middle of the table within everyone’s reach. Don’t load up your plate like you’re eating at an endless buffet after you’ve run a marathon. Eat one piece at a time before proceeding to the next dish. If you “hoard” dim sum on your plate like a squirrel before a hard winter, you may not be invited again.
2) Use chopsticks. You can’t properly eat dim sum unless you use chopsticks so learn to use them. Some dishes, such as shrimp noodles, are very slippery and challenge even the most dexterous native chopstick user. In this case, a little assistance with a fork is fine. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat buns with your fingers.
3) Keep the teacups full. You will be asked what type of tea you would like when you are seated. As a dim sum pro, your job is to make sure everyone’s teacup is filled up when it’s near empty. And when the teapot is empty, just open the lid to signal to the waiter to bring a fresh pot. Be careful to place the teapot far away from kids’ reach since metal teapots are super hot and can quickly burn someone.
4) Wait for your turn. Occasionally you will see customers run over to a distant cart like they are trying to sack a quarterback. These dim sum “rushers” are trying to take their favorite dish before it runs out. Don’t do this, it’s rude. The “dim sum ladies” pushing the carts do not like customers swarming around them and they certainly do not like people touching the dishes. Serving dim sum is strictly their territory. Besides you don’t want to get burned by the steamy dishes and hot cart. Imagine the total chaos if everyone crowded around the carts like hungry sharks! Leave your pass rushing skills on the field.
5) Fight to pay the bill. In Chinese culture, it’s considered an honor to pay the bill. When Chinese people eat with family and close friends, it’s customary to fight over who gets to pay the bill. I’ve seen people make wrestling moves that would impress Olympic judges in their attempt to snatch the bill away from a relative. If you lose some battles over the bill, just make sure you win some as well. More stealthy and cunning tactics for grabbing the check are employed as well. If you are eating with Western friends or coworkers, splitting the bill evenly is fine.
6) Leave a tip. Like any other restaurant, staff at Chinese restaurants depend on tips for a good portion of their pay. Tips get divided among the various servers. Anywhere from 10-20% is acceptable depending on the food and service.