Beijing-Bound Exec Needs "Activity" for Business Group
May 23, 2014 5:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm attempting to plan a trip for an executive I'm supporting in a temp role, and if all goes well, I may get to keep the job. The guy is going to Beijing in the fall and will spend one night entertaining a group of Chinese executives. I need to plan the entertainment. Where do I send them?

I've never been to Beijing, and it seems none of my friends have either, so I turn to you, well-traveled and global Mefites.

The American business dude in question will be expecting to host a group of Chinese execs for one night in Beijing, taking them to a group activity and then dinner. Finding a place to host a business dinner isn't really a problem for me since I love researching that sort of thing (though any recs would be welcome), but I've never been an Executive Assistant or been to China before, so I don't know a.) What's appropriate for typical C-level business guys to do together? b.) What's an appropriate activity keeping in mind all Chinese cultural parameters?, and c.) What's doing in Beijing?

I don't want to schedule anything that could possible make everyone bored or be totally strange from a Chinese perspective since that would reflect poorly on my boss, so any push in the right direction would be wildly appreciated.
posted by pineappleheart to Travel & Transportation around Beijing, China (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's an interesting article, apparently it would be appropritate to arrange a banquet.

Here is an excerpt from an article:

After Dinner Entertainment in China

Formal business dinner normally drags for quite sometime as there will be much social talk, some karoake, and drinking contests. Most of the time, everyone is too drunk to indulge in further entertainment after a dinner. In addition, if you are just new to this partnership, you are unlikely to be invited to further after dinner entertainment.

However, once you are familiar with them, you may be invited to a Karaoke, or a Night Club, or a Suana. Do note that if they are the host for the night, all bills will be picked up by them for the night, including all entertainment. It is impolite to fight for the bill or worst, split the bills.

Similarly, if you are the host for the night, you are expected to pick up all bills for the night.

Controversial Issues in China
There are some taboo areas in social conversations with the Chinese. Try to avoid these conversational topics as much as possible. I have seen many nasty arguements as a result of these topics:

1. You must not mention that Taiwan is an independent state or a country.
2. You must NEVER praise the Japanese or be seen to be good buddies with them
3. You can condemn Mao Tse Tung but avoid critising Deng Hsiao Ping
4. You must not praise Shanghai in front of natives of Beijing and similarly vice versa

Other than that, you are pretty safe to converse with the Chinese anything under the sun!

So, I'd work with the hotel to arrange a lovely dinner, and perhaps skip entertainment until the relationship is cemented.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 AM on May 23, 2014

Do you know more about these guys? What business are they in? How old are they on average? Have they dealt much with Americans before? My Beijing experience is totally out of date and didn't involve the highest and mightiest, but some folks really enjoyed an American-style or other Western-style night out - dinner at some foreign restaurant, for instance, because it was novel; other people really liked a very posh, very traditional night out; still others enjoyed a posh meal at a regional-cuisine restaurant - I went with some people to a big dinner at a famous Szechuan place, for instance. If they're young and happening, an old-school posh dinner might seem stodgy; if they're older, an old-school dinner might be both fun and the Done Thing. It may be possible that people will want to drink a lot of strong liquor - that happened at every fancy event I ever went to. Your boss should be prepared both to provide this via the restaurant and to partake.

Is your boss taking gifts? He should take some gifts, nice ones - it's courtesy, not a bribe. I'm not sure what the done thing is now - it was the nicest kind of Johnny Walker as a fallback when I was there, although I also liked to take local specialties from home - something expensive and something folksy.

My experience of the few high-level people I did meet was, honestly, that they were both cultured and tolerant.

I bet some Chinese mefites and Beijing-dwelling folks have great suggestions, but if you can, I'd find out more about your group.

If you get really desperate for answers, memail me - someone I used to work with in Beijing got back in the country fairly recently, and while I don't know him super-well anymore, I am pretty confident he'd be glad to suggest some stuff.
posted by Frowner at 6:19 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I worked in Beijing for several years. Just to clarify, is the plan to have an afternoon activity then go directly to dinner? A few suggestions:

- Contrary to the suggestion in RB's above (which is mainly for a men-only boy's-night-out), most Chinese business guests prefer to start dinner early (6-6:30pm), finish by 8pm, and go home. That's particularly true for somewhat older C-level execs. There is no after-dinner chit chat or hanging around. Once dessert is finished (usually, a huge shared plate of assorted fruit) the leader of the Chinese group will thank your boss and the whole group will leave. The one exception would be karaoke, which is indeed an after-dinner activity and is suitable for all ages and all groups. But if you're doing that, get help from a local in choosing an ordinary general-public karaoke place, not a "men's only" one.

- Traffic is miserable in BJ so either the group should travel together in a rented minivan from the activity to the dinner, or the activity should be in the same place as the dinner.

- As for the dinner, all Chinese restaurants offer pre-arranged banquet menus at different per-person price levels. Choose one of those, then you are assured the guests will like it. I won't go over dinner-seating etiquette other than to say your boss should sit in the chair facing the door and the leader of the Chinese group should sit to his right.

- Your boss should pay for the dinner beforehand or else wait until everyone leaves before getting the bill and paying.

- As for the activity, it would help if you can give more details about the Chinese many, likely age range, whether the dinner immediately follows the activity or not, how well your boss knows his guests, what the purpose of the activity is, how long it's supposed to go etc. "Activity + dinner" is somewhat unusual in my experience, but an interesting idea if done well. Hey here's an idea: Arrange a talk on how to distinguish different types of wine together with a blind wine tasting. That could work out real well. Wine is big in China these days, people want to know all about it. You could do it pre-dinner in the same place. And everyone will be jovial when they sit down to dinner. You could serve some of the same wine from the tasting at the dinner, even let the guests debate and vote on which two wines to serve! I think I'll do that myself the next time I organize one of these dinners.
posted by mono blanco at 7:06 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't know anything about the Chinese execs and haven't really been given any information. To be honest, I think that the other details of the business trip are really meant to be booked and that this activity/dinner thing is a bit of a hypothetical test for me, hence the vagueness. However, these guys would all be in the hospitality and/or tech business. Online luxury hotel sites, etc.
posted by pineappleheart at 7:51 AM on May 23, 2014

Based on mono blanco's comment, check this place out:

East Wine Cellar

You could do a wine tasting activity prior to dinner being served, and they can set up a banquet dinner on-site. It seems very elegant and they offer both French and a Chinese menu.

This would work if the place is local to where the office is. You don't want to travel all over creation to pull this off.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:03 AM on May 23, 2014

A wine tasting would work for that group but some of them will already know a fair amount so it should be at the intermediate or advanced level. I haven't been to RB's suggestion, the East Red Wine Cellar (map). But it looks like it'd work if the group is in the eastern part of Beijing. You can also contact Stephen Zhang, the F&B manager at the Westin Financial Street, who is extremely knowledgeable about wines, a nice guy, good English. He could put together a very interesting tasting of lesser-known varietals/regions. The Westin Financial (map) is in the west part of Beijing, in the financial district. That's on the opposite end of BJ from Chaoyang if the group is mainly in the west of the city.

Both RB's suggestion and mine will be expensive. Beijing restaurant dining, both Chinese and Western, is expensive these days. If you think it's a test then you could propose either of the above alternatives. If he really wants you to arrange something then you'll have to ask how many people, price range, how much time he wants to allot to the activity, etc. The same q's you'd ask if you were organizing this in New York or anywhere else.
posted by mono blanco at 9:22 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it is part of a "test" they may be looking for you to ask intelligent, well-informed questions before spending a lot of time researching. What is the budget would be one of my first questions.
posted by saucysault at 9:38 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Budget is very seriously sky's-the-limit.
posted by pineappleheart at 11:02 AM on May 23, 2014

Do some research on the Chinese execs and the company (or companies) involved.
posted by driedmango at 2:43 PM on May 23, 2014

Oh my goodness.

(@ first comment)

Never spell Deng Xiaoping's name Hsiao Ping. That raises /my/ hackles.

Use the party's preferred Romanization on all invites. No ts- hs- -eh business -- c, x, e. Pinyin, not Wade-Giles or anything else.

um, go to that silly roast duck "molecular gastronomy" place? Would that be too a-list? The dishes really are pretty clever.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:57 PM on May 23, 2014

This is just my thought as a secretary (other than being totally skeeved out by "this is a test" - the economy's crap and you should certainly take a job if you can get it, but I am visualizing your boss as the boss in 50 Shades of Grey for some reason, because that's a fool/creepy/manipulative thing to do)....Why not do all the research you can, come up with two or even three alternate plans with estimates based on contacting the restaurants, contact info, websites, photos, route to the place from wherever people are staying (package all this up in whatever way your boss will respond to - lots of detail, little detail, paper, online, whatever) and then see if you can get him to choose? If he picks, he's on the hook if he doesn't like it, even if he's just choosing A or B. Also, contact all the places and make sure it's possible to set up a reservation for the date in question - you don't want to have him get all enthused about one place and then have it be impossible.

Also, make sure you know how everyone will be getting around and how the traffic is going to be (terrible, I expect). Car service?

Will your boss have anyone with him who speaks Mandarin or is he going on his own? If he has a colleague or assistant who speaks Mandarin, can you talk to them?
posted by Frowner at 8:17 PM on May 23, 2014

« Older Help me find the t-shirt dress of my dreams   |   Can I use these things as external monitors? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.