MUST allow "Host" to eat first (?)

Here is the situation. One family has invited another family to eat in an upscale restaurant in Taipei. The invited family arrives. Counting the two sets of parents and all the kids, there are seven people at the table.

Pleasantries are exchanged, and everybody orders. Some light conversation begins. After some time, the children’s food comes. They begin eating. The food for the host wife comes, and then the food for the invited husband and wife come. Five minutes elapse. The food for the host has not come.

The invited husband begins to nibble at his food. He even takes a few bites.

Later upon leaving the restaurant, the invited wife says: “You were extremely rude to our hosts. You should have waited for the host husband’s food to come, and for him to begin eating, and for him to first indicate that you could begin eating, before beginning to eat.”

Question: Is this a STRICT NORM OF ETIQUETTE in these modern times?

(Location: Taipei)

Well, I would have waited til everyone’s food had come, but if it was just little nibbles and you’re good friends, he probably didn’t even notice.

Was this a Western-style restaurant, where everyone orders individual dishes?

If it was a place where everyone ate “family style,” which (correct me if I’m wrong) is how most Chinese meals in Taiwan are served to a big group, then this wouldn’t be a problem. Everyone could begin eating as soon as the first dish arrived and is passed around.

If it is a Western restaurant in Taiwan, then I don’t know which rules of etiquette to follow–I believe in the West (America, at least) it is only polite to beginning eating after everyone is served–unless the person who has not been served says that the others should go ahead and start.

If the host’s food had not arrived, I believe that he should have said that you and the others could start eating (and then discretely) called the waiter over and asked when his meal would be ready.

Interesting question.

I would not say it is a strict rule of etiquette, but the way I was brought up was that you don’t eat your meal until everyone is served. Note that this is everyone; the host is not anything special. (I suspect the comment implied that it was especially rude to do this to the host, not that the host was the only one entitled to such consideration.) However, as fee pointed out, it is also generally expected that those who have not been served to tell those who have to go ahead and eat if it looks like there will be a significant delay. Western restaurants will usually try to ensure that everyone is served at roughly the same time to avoid this problem, but that kind of service is not typical in Taiwan. And of course, the more familiar the group, the less strictly one normally follows this rule.

If there was a delay and guests are sitting there staring at their food for more than a few minutes, the host should tell everyone to dig in.
Sometimes hosts just forget themselves and need a hint from the hungry guests (“This looks delicious!”) or even an elbow from the spouse.

Isn’t it a strikt rule of etiquette that you don’t start eating unless EVERYBODY got his/her dish? At least that’s how I was brought up. Why should it be any different with Chinese people on the table?

The rule, as I understand it, is wait for everyone to be serve before eating, unless those who have not been served invite you to go ahead.

The other question that begs to be answered here is why the restaurant is serving everyone at different times…a major breach of etiquette in the restaurant industry. :unamused:


True - and perhaps even trickier for the host if he/she is not familiar with Western etiquette. It may not be intrinsically obvious to them that they can/should ‘order’ everyone to start eating without them if Taiwanese custom traditionally demands the host start first, which is of course easy when the food is communal (I’m assuming the host was Taiwanese, which of course may not have been the case at all). It might be like “well, I should start so everyone can eat, but how can I?”

It’s a tricky situation - my guess is that you would give the host maximum ‘face’ by just waiting and deferring to his authority in the situation - that’s probably what a Taiwanese would do to show politeness and respect, even if they were starving and his/her food got cold. However, if it’s more of a casual, friendly dinner, or if he’s the kind of person who’s laid-back and genuinely wants his guests to have a good time, nibbling as a form of polite hinting isn’t a mortal insult, IMO. Particularly if he’s not familiar with the Western etiquette which dictates that he “should” have told everyone to start without him. It depends on the pre-existing relationship between the families as to whether it was appropriate to take the liberty since it seems to be a culture clash type of situation where it’s hard to know which etiquette should take precedence. Of course, he could just be a neglectful host or the guest merely far too impatient :slight_smile:

Who paid for the meal (assuming it was the host)? Another piece of information was that it was at an upscale restaurant, indicates to me that this was a formal dinner. Polite Chinese dinner etiquette REQUIRES acknowledgment from the host to begin eating in formal settings. If the host isn’t served, or isn’t eating or hasn’t given permission, then you sit on your hands. That’s just so obviously basic.

The most interesting thing in this thread is that one husband got told off by his wife… he he he… who was the “guy” Hartzell?

I have this funny mental image of Hartzell getting his fingers smacked.

Yeah, should of stood up for yourself Richard – “You, you, YOU, who is not even the citizen of a sovereign country but a mere MINION, a mere PAWN under a temporary US military government interim administration! You have the TEMERITY to sit there and tell me my etiqette is WANTING?..”

it always seemed to me taiwanese have definite ideas about who is to eat first. someone always seems to announce when you can eat. i have no idea what the rules are, yet hate bending them, so at any kind of dinner like that i never eat until an announcement has been made.

at home, first they would never bring one persons food first, and certainly not at anything remotely formal, but if it happened in a less formal situation i would say something like well i guess i’m going to dig in, and everyone would say yeah why wait.

Based on my experience with this sort of (semi-formal) meal in Taiwan, etiquette requires not that the host or invited person eat first, but that the person with the greatest stature at the table be offered the first taste of a dish.

Typically, hosts, regardless of stature, will insist that the guests be the first to eat a particular dish. That is because the host is showing deference/respect to the guest. The guest should always defer back to the host, the oldest person at the table, or whomever happens to have the highest stature at the table. Typically, the host will insist that the guest start, in which case he or she should (eventually). If there is no host/guest relationship, then it reverts to the stature issue. In this case, one should be adamant about allowing that person the first taste. These rules apply to everyone, including foreigners, and the wise foreigner will be sensitive to such matters, since breaking etqiuette can lead to a major loss of face.

Now, if it’s western style with everyone having his/her separate dish, then BY ALL MEANS, one MUST wait until each person has received his/her dish before beginning. This is not a case of host/guest/stature but of common courtesy that extends to everyone at the table. Hosts will politely ask that the guest begin eating, but the guest should refuse and say he/she will wait. This will make the host feel you honor him/her, and though your food may be a bit cold, you will make your host happy.

Want to go even further? Make a big fuss to the wait staff about the host being foodless. This sort of show can win you lots of face points. :wink:

By the way, I doubt R.H. is the person in question. After all these years in Taiwan, such things are probably second nature to him. N’est-ce pas?

The invited husband begins to nibble at his food.
(Location: Taipei)[/quote]

  1. The husband should not have got under way, even if the host indicated he should do so.

Later upon leaving the restaurant, the invited wife says: “You were extremely rude to our hosts. You should have waited for the host husband’s food to come, and for him to begin eating, and for him to first indicate that you could begin eating, before beginning to eat.”

(Location: Taipei)[/quote]

  1. The wife was way out of line in confronting the hungry guy and wins the rudeness contest hands down.

  2. The host should have made it known that the others should begin eating
    and was perhaps showing an ego problem but could just have been thinking each dish passing the table was his. Unknown.

Conclusion: Avoid the bitch wife in future.

What would Laodz say?

Who cares? Why the hell are so hung up on ‘ettiquette’?


Because it’s the oil that greases the machinery of this society. Anyone who has had extensive business dealings here or a network of local friends will tell you ignoring etiquette in Taiwan can be disastrous.

The invited husband begins to nibble at his food.
(Location: Taipei)[/quote]

The husband should not have got under way, even if the host indicated he should do so.[/quote]

I disagree. After 5 minutes, the host husband should have noticed that his guest was waiting patiently and should’ve said, “go ahead and start without me.” If he didn’t do so then he’s either rude or unobservant. Upon the host saying that the guest would’ve been free to start eating or could’ve said, “that’s ok, I’m sure yours will be out in a minute,” in which case he would’ve regretted saying that when it turned out not to be true.

My inlaws are simple folks in Chiayi with little table etiquette: they come and go from the table at different times, with no “excuse me” when they leave, or shouting out to those watching TV in the other room as they eat, etc, but still I always try to wait till the father has started eating before I do. Sometimes, however, the father will pack a bien dang and ride over to deliver it to grandpa, as he does every night, and the mom will tell me “go ahead, eat” and there have been times when I have sat down and started eating, but I feel guilty when the father returns and sits down at the table and this foreigner is already sitting there eating his food. :blush:

I think that this thread has generated some good discussion. Indeed, I am grateful for all the well thought-out replies.

However, I think that one aspect has been overlooked. The three children in attendance (two children of the host couple, and one child of the invited guest couple) had already been served, and had already begun eating.

Doesn’t this fact need to be factored into everyone’s analysis?

In other words, can we say that since the host couple has offered no objection to their own children and the invited couple’s child to BEGIN EATING, they are in effect indicating that they don’t care who starts first??

From another viewpoint, is there any rationale for saying that someone should have instructed the children to WAIT ??

kids are another story. god forbid kids should be made to wait to get some food into their stomachs, they might be damaged for all eternity :slight_smile: