October 27/November 3, 2014; Volume 28/Number 10
By Julian Dossche
(Editor’s note: Julian Dossche is the senior manager, Global Business Development, at USFloors. Dossche recently relocated to the Jing’an District in Shanghai, China, to run the company’s Asian business. He has agreed to pen a quarterly column for FCNews on his perspective of doing business in China, his experiences and where opportunities may lie.)
In my last column I briefly discussed the importance of the Chinese business dinner and what it means for future business cooperation.
For those who have experienced an extravagant Chinese business meal, you are probably wondering what the meaning was behind all the drinking and toasts, the enormous amounts of dishes that show up and the number of people who were present. If you recall the description of the table from my last column, you will remember that I described the table as one that is round with a “lazy Susan” centered in the middle, and is quite large. Also, you will most likely be in a private room that is heavily decorated. You, as the honored guest, will sit next to the highest-ranking member of the company. In most cases, this will be the owner of the company, but if the owner is not present, it will be the general manager; if the GM is not present… you get the picture. More than likely, other company members that were not present during prior meetings that day will join your dinner. I like to say they are there to help “read” you during the meal.
Like I said in the last installment, the dinner is set up the way it is because the Chinese company you might potentially do business with wants to achieve a number of objectives. First, they want to show their hospitality. Second, they want to show their prosperity by bringing you to a nice restaurant with big rooms, furniture, chandeliers and numerous extravagant dishes. I have had dinners where 50 dishes were brought to the table ranging from meats, fish and vegetables to soups and desserts. We did not finish everything, but that is not the point; the point is that your potential Chinese supplier, or current supplier, wants to show their prosperity and hospitality. They do not want you to go home hungry and, in some cases, they do not want you to go home sober, either.
Back to the objectives. The third objective is they want to figure out who you are as a person. They want to know if you are just there strictly on business or if you are willing to open up a bit and show that in the end, we are all trying to have fun and build a deeper, more meaningful relationship. Many of these factory owners are self-made and have come a long way from their humble origins. They are extremely happy to share their achievements with you and show you how their hard work and sleepless nights paid off and changed their lives for the better.
So when you come to visit China and visit suppliers, or potential suppliers, be prepared to eat a lot and drink a lot because for the Chinese, the world—especially the business world—revolves around relationships. The phrase, “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours,” is deeply embedded in the Chinese culture. In the conference room it is hard for that phrase to come out, but when you are sitting at dinner with 50-plus dishes, representatives from both companies and glasses of local alcohol, that is when the culture and meaning of “back scratching” comes out on both sides.
One word of advice: If your host points to a dish and says, “Please try it,” pick up your chopsticks and dig in. It is the polite thing to do as the host specifically ordered that dish to impress you and maybe even show off some of the local fare. Happy dining.