Have you ever walked into a Chinese restaurant and noticed that the staff is much friendlier to Chinese-speaking customers? It’s partially because they don’t have to deal with a language barrier, and also partially because they love anyone that’s from their homeland. You certainly shouldn’t take it personally!
That being said, there are few things that Chinese people find more impressive than a foreigner attempting to speak their language. Take Mark Zuckerberg, for example. His decision to answer a Q&A completely in Mandarin Chinese won our respect.
Being Chinese, we know exactly how difficult our language can be for others. And as we've mentioned before, the fastest way to achieve Chinese fluency is to practice. So here are some phrases you can use in a Chinese restaurant (or a restaurant with Chinese staff.)
Please. (Only used at the beginning of a sentence, and never used on it's own.)
谢谢 (xiè xiè!)
WHEN YOU WALK IN
WHAT YOU MIGHT HEAR:
How many people?
HOW YOU MIGHT RESPOND:
一位 (yī wèi)
两位 (liǎng wèi)
三位 (sān wèi)
四位 (sì wèi)
外带 (wài dài)
FLAGGING SOMEONE DOWN
If you are eating at a restaurant in China, people may not even approach to take your order. Tipping at restaurants is not customary in China, therefore most servers do not provide individualized service to each table, and instead “man the floor.” That’s why you usually need to flag someone down for service.
WHAT YOU MIGHT SAY:
(While raising your hand) 服务员! (fú wù yuán)
点菜! (diǎn cài)
I'd like to order!
HOW THEY MIGHT RESPOND:
马上! (mǎ shàng)
Be right there!
WHAT YOU MIGHT SAY:
"帮忙拿一个菜单. (bāng máng ná yī fèn cài dān)"
"Please bring me a menu."
"四杯冰水! (sì bēi bīng shuǐ)"
"Four cups of ice water!"
"一壶茶水! (yī hú chá shuǐ)"
"One pot of tea!"
Due to new water regulations in many big cities, restaurants in China have begun charging for water, so keep that in mind when you order.
"一份宫保鸡丁! (yī fèn gōng bào jī dīng)"
"One serving of Kung Pao Chicken!"
(While pointing to the menu) "这个, 一份 (zhè gè, yī fèn)"
"One serving of this."
"有什么可以推荐的吗? (yǒu shén me kě yǐ tuī jiàn de mā)"
"Can you recommend anything?"
"这里最火的菜是什么? (zhè lǐ zuì huǒ de cài shì shén me)"
"What’s the most popular dish here?"
Below is a list of other foods that you might order:
米饭(mǐ fàn) Rice.
粥 (zhōu) Congee.
青菜 (qīng cài) Vegetables.
饺子 (jiǎo zi) Dumplings.
面条 (miàn tiáo) Noodles.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HEAR
"有什么忌口吗？(yǒu shén me jì kǒu mā)"
"Are there things you do not eat?"
“忌口” roughly translates “diet” or “avoided foods.” If you have any allergies, food preferences, food restrictions, etc, this is when you speak up.
HOW YOU MIGHT RESPOND
You can start by saying, "我不吃… (wǒ bù chī)"
"I don’t eat…"
牛羊肉 (niú yáng ròu)
Beef and Lamb
猪肉 (zhū ròu)
If you don’t have any preferences, you can simply say:
"没有 (méi yǒu)"
"I don’t have any."
DURING THE MEAL
WHAT YOU MIGHT SAY
"帮忙加点茶水! (bāng máng jiā diǎn chá shuǐ)"
"Add some tea, please!"
"有餐巾纸吗？(yǒu cān jīn zhǐ mā)"
"Do you have napkins?"
"多拿几个盘子。(duō ná jǐ gè pán zi)"
"Bring some extra plates."
AFTER THE MEAL
WHAT YOU MIGHT SAY
"买单! (mǎi dān) The bill, please!"
"刷卡可以吗? (shuā kǎ kě yǐ mā) Can I use a credit card?"
It’s not customary to tip in restaurants in China. If the service was exceptionally good, and you are paying in cash, you can simply ask them to keep the change as a tip.
"不用找了，当小费吧！(bú yòng zhǎo le dāng xiǎo fèi ba)"
"No need to get change, keep it as a tip!"
Of course, if you are in a Chinese restaurant in another country, please tip accordingly.
We hope that this post encourages you to speak Chinese in a Chinese restaurant! Are there specific Chinese foods you want to try or other phrases you want to know? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @TutorABCChinese!
Need help on pronunciation? You can check out TutorABC Chinese’s pinyin table here.