If your supplier invites you for lunch or more likely to dinner: accept. Because it will give you a rare opportunity to meet your supplier and his staff in a more relaxed environment.
Learn Chinese Culture
You will learn more about Chinese culture by dining with Chinese people than reading many books about Chinese food.
If they ask you where you want to eat and whether Chinese food would be OK with you, (that’s what they usually ask), you just tell them to choose the restaurant for you and that you will be delighted to eat Chinese food.
Don’t worry, they will not force you to eat snakes or deep fried bees as I had to eat once. They respect you as a foreigner and will offer you several kinds of delicious food.
Especially the Cantonese food in Hong Kong is very good and tasty and you just relax and enjoy it.
Beware of Drinking Competitions
However, beware of drinking competitions with your Chinese counterparts. Since there are usually several people from their company, you will most likely lose because everybody will toast to you and ask you to drink bottoms up.
The good thing is that Chinese dining is very predictable and does not last too long. The food is usually served very fast and 6-8 dishes will not take longer than an hour or so.
Therefore all dinners, even large banquets, will finish no later than 11:00 PM. This allows you to get a good night’s sleep.
If you don’t like some particular food, just let it go because the next course is already on its way. If you do not eat or taste anything at all, you will lose face and your host will lose face as well because obviously he did not choose the right food for you.
By the way, eating Dim Sum during lunchtime is very enjoyable and relatively cheap. You can choose from trolleys driven around by waitresses.
The local food in general is not too expensive but do not make the mistake of letting the waiter choose the fish for you. Of course, he will always choose the most expensive one. This can only happen if you go out dining by yourself.
When dining with your supplier use the time for some small talk with your host. Ask them about their family how many children they have and vice versa, give them information about yourself. Chinese people love to know more about their customer’s background. If you have photos of your kids and your wife, show them and they will reciprocate.
Avoid discussions about political issues. You never know what political background your business partner has and frankly speaking, it does not matter.
It is a very good opportunity to learn something about other companies. If another company has financial problems, your host may know it from his raw material vendors or component suppliers that often request cash payment upon delivery. It is obvious that a factory has financial problems if they cannot make these payments.
It could also happen that you are not the only customer at your supplier’s table. If there is no direct competition between the companies, suppliers sometimes purposely invite them, in the hope that it will help convince you to buy from them.
It is always a good idea to talk to other importers and find out about good and bad experiences they have had with their suppliers. It could help you avoid trouble. Their advice is free of charge, based on their own experience, and not just hearsay.