As you can probably tell, either via observing your Asian friends or reading my posts, eating is a big thing in Asian culture, not just wanting good food (which is pretty much universal), but the act of eating together is so important that it has been elevated to something of an art form in Chinese culture.
Despite this, it’s a dying art, if the fact that I didn’t know anything about dining procedures until a few months ago is any indication of this. Although I know all about table manners, both the Chinese and English versions, I never really heard or stopped to think about dining etiquette – i.e. how one should sit at a table, how one should act as a host or as a guest, etc. It was my dad who taught me, after seeing how someone else violated such ‘rules’ and embarrassed themselves (and the older generation) without knowing it.
Apparently, when you invite people out for a meal, you’re supposed to take the worst seat for yourself and put your most esteemed guests (usually the oldest person of the group) in the seat(s) of honour. The ‘worst seat’ is the seat that’s closest to the entrance, and where the waiter leans over to set dishes on the table (上菜 in Chinese). Logic has it that this seat is the most dangerous, because there’s the chance of the waiter spilling scalding hot food all over you. The best seat is completely protected from such a thing happening, plus it offers the best view of the table and restaurant. If the table is closer to the kitchen or restrooms, then the seat of honour is the seat furthest away from them, while also being able to see the entrance (if possible). I find it fascinating, yet I can see where these rules all come from, not to make people picky, but a way for the host to show courtesy, respect, and refinement to his or her guests.
For more details about Chinese dining etiquette, you can read about it here on this online Chinese travel guide.