So your meeting went well, and it is looking like your business trip to Shanghai will be a successful one. You decide to celebrate by going to a restaurant recommended by one of your Chinese business associates. Unfortunately, when you get there you realize that you never bothered to learn any Mandarin restaurant phrases! As you frantically flip through your phrasebook trying to find the relevant section, your impatient waiter goes to serve someone else! Somewhat embarrassed, you eventually remember reading this article, and are finally able to order your celebratory dinner!
Excuse me – qǐngwén
The first phrase you should know is “excuse me”. This is useful for getting the attention of your waiter, or simply trying to get someone out of your way in a crowded area.
How much is this? – Zhège duōshǎo qián?
Before ordering anything off the menu, you’ll want to make sure you know how much you’re going to pay for it! Remember that the exchange rate is about 6 Yuan for 1 USD. The Chinese government typically tries to keep the exchange rate fairly stable in order to preserve their assets in the United States, so this rate should be reliable for the foreseeable future.
I don’t understand – wǒ tīngbùdǒng
Sometimes a waiter or host will think that, because you spoke a few words in Mandarin, you are actually fluent! This is a great phrase to remember so that you can make sure no one is under the impression that you can carry on a full conversation with them in Mandarin!
I’d like a table by the window – jiù xiàng yīgè kào chuānghù de zhuōzi
If the restaurant you’re trying has a nice view and you want to sit by the window, now you can say so! You might even impress your waiter with how many Mandarin phrases you’ve learned!
What do you recommend? – Nǐ yǒu shénme kěyǐ xiàng wǒ tuījiàn?
If you’re overwhelmed by the menu (or if it’s entirely in Mandarin), this is a great way to get something off the menu that is tasty and authentic! Waiters are typically happy to provide you with a couple suggestions on delicious plates offered by their restaurant, and they’ll appreciate you taking the effort to ask them in their native tongue!
I would like – Wò xiǎngyào
This might be the most important phrase you learn! Even if you remember only this phrase, you can use it to point to an item or picture on the menu, and you waiter will know what you want.
Thank you – Xie Xie
This is another great phrase to remember; two simple words that can dramatically increase your perceived manners. You might even want to remember this one when you meet with your Chinese business partners. If a meeting goes well, they’ll certainly appreciate being thanked in their own language.
I would like the bill – Jiézhàng or Wǒ mǎidān
In China, some restaurants won’t bring the bill over until you specifically ask for it. In addition, if your Mandarin is limited, you might not realize they’ve already offered to bring it over! Either of these terms can be used to politely convey a desire to close out your bill.
I don’t need change, that is your tip – Bié zhǎole, suàn xiǎfèi ba
If service at the restaurant was good, this can be a useful term so your waiter knows for sure that you are not looking for change, but are actually giving him a tip. Anywhere from 5% to 15% is reasonable. However, check to see if the tip has already been included in the bill. Many restaurants in China add the service change automatically.
To simply say “tip”, the term is “xiǎofèi”
Cheers! – gān bēi
If you’re at a restaurant to celebrate a successful business trip, it’s possible a toast is in order! You can impress your Chinese business partners by saying “cheers” in their language!
Mandarin is one of the most difficult languages for Westerners to learn. However, as one of the biggest trading partners of the United States, there is reason to learn as much as possible. Knowing some basic phrases will undoubtedly make any time spent in China flow more smoothly. However, unless you are planning to take extensive lessons in Mandarin, you will need a professional translation service for the important business documents you draft and sign.
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