A few days ago I had a friend ask me about what goes on at a Chinese Banquet meal. I thought I'd write up a short description.
A Chinese Banquet meal is almost always served family style. The number of courses of food will vary depending on portion size and number of people seated at your table, but 10 courses is pretty common. In my experience Chinese Banquet meals typically have the following structure
Cold Plate - The first dish that typically comes out is a cold plate of various appetizers. The items on this dish will vary, but slices of pork, chicken, and jellyfish are the most common items I've seen. I've also seen wakame salad (seawood salad you usually see in Japanese restaurants), octopus, and duck wings.
Soup - The soup comes next. I think seafood soup is the most common type offered although this may differ by restaurant.
Vegetable dish - Atleast one vegetable dish is served. A common one is bok choy with mushrooms. If the meal is fancier, this might be billed as a seafood dish with vegetables (e.g. scallops with vegetables).
Fowl dish - In my experience it's duck more often than chicken. Peking duck or some variant is quite common. Poached chicken with ginger sauce is common too.
Crustacean dish - There will typically be a lobster or crab dish. I think lobster is more common. Unlike most Western restaurants, these are typically cut up and stir fried (or possibly baked) so you get tiny chunks to dig meat out of.
Fish dish - Typically steamed fresh fish.
Carb Dish - Either noodles or fried rice. For those not too familiar with Chinese Banquet meals, you don't get rice with any of the prior courses. I was told its because rice and carbs are cheap and a host wants you to fill up on the good stuff first.
Dessert - Of course varies by restaurant, but a sweet bean or rice based dessert is common.
If your party is a little on the large size, a few more dishes will be sprinkled in the middle to make sure there is enough food for everyone.
So as an example, here's a sample banquet menu from Mayflower Restaurant in Dublin, CA. It follows my description nearly perfectly.
Deluxe Combination Platter
Great Wealth Crab Meat & Bird's Nest Soup
Sauteed Mince Squab with Egg White & Green
Sauteed Scallop & Calimari in XO Sauce
Whole Abalone with Sea Cucumber & Green
Crispy Chicken with Garlic
Lobster with Garlic & Butter in Supreme Broth
Smoked Sea Bass
E-Fu Noodles with Dried Scallop & Yellow Chives