The Dos and Don’ts, Dining Etiquette and Table Manners in South Korea

South Koreans practise some quite interesting dining etiquette. If you often have to dine with Koreans for business or leisure, it is worthwhile to know some of them to avoid embarrassing scenes or committing offending behaviour.

UPON ARRIVAL AT RESTAURANT

Upon arrival at dinner table, it is best to wait till you are told where to sit. Korean follows some rules regarding who should sit where. Avoid committing an ignorant mistake by helping yourself to an empty seat beside a pretty lady.

The seat farthest away from the entrance door is considered the best spot. Therefore it is best to reserve it for the important customers, bosses or elderly.

Source

DINING WITH LOCALS

When visiting Korea, it is a good experience to dine with the locals to get a dive into their dining culture. Although many restaurants have portions of their menu translated into English, the English section is usually only a small sections of what they have to offer, so not knowing Korean is a major disadvantage. Moreover, unless it is a steak house catered for foreigners, most people working in the restaurant cannot speak English well enough to assist you. Hence, it will be an advantage when you have locals dining with you to order the special dishes, especially if you have special diet or preferences. They can also explain the content and making of dishes, and if necessary on how to consume the dish.

WHILE DINING

Koreans are very respectful of the elders. It is considered a respectful act for the younger generation to wait for the eldest person or the senior manager to eat first. Avoid helping yourself with your food as soon as it arrives on the table, no matter how hungry you may be. Wait for the elders to hold their spoon before you take yours, and keep pace with them.

When sitting, sit with your body in an upright, straight position. Do not hunch your back.

Korean often say no when being offer food to eat, even when he wishes to take more of the food. After the first helping, their etiquette expects the first offer of the second helping to be refused. The Koreans will then insist that you take the second helping, it is then considered alright to accept it. Of course, you can politely decline when you are full.

Start the meal by tasting the soup, follow by trying the rice or other dishes. Please use the spoon for rice and liquid foods, such as stews or soups. Use the chopsticks for other foods.

Avoid holding the rice bowl or soup bowl in your hand during the meal. Rice and soup bowl should always be on the table.

Avoid poking around the rice or side dishes with the spoon or chopsticks.

If you dislike certain food in the dish, you don’t have to try them. However, do not pick out what you don't like or remove the seasonings.

Avoid having traces of food sticking onto the spoon or chopsticks while eating.

During the meal, inedible parts such as bones should be quietly discarded by wrapping them in a tissue paper before placing it on the table so that others won't see them. Do not put the discarded food without wrapping on the table or floor.

If you have to cough or sneeze while having a meal, face to the other direction where there are no people facing you, away from the person sitting in front of you or beside you. Cover your mouth with your hand or napkin before you cough or sneeze.

Side dishes are presented for each section of the table. Eat the rice and side dishes from only one side of the table belonging to your section; do not cross to other side of the table for more servings. If you need more side dishes, you can ask for free refill.

It is considered impolite to use your hands to pick up the foods and put into your mouth. Always use the chopsticks and spoon.

Do not reach across the table for distant food. Please ask a nearby person to pass it to you.

When chewing food, chew silently with your mouth closed and do not make any noise while chewing.

Do not read a book, newspaper or watch TV while eating.

Avoid leaving the table while eating unless you really need to go to the washroom.

Source

TYPICAL FOOD ARRANGEMENT IN TRADITIONAL KOREAN RESTAURANT

A traditional Korean restaurant can be very organized and systematic in their food serving and arrangement. The side dishes can go for a few to more than ten dishes.

Hot and watery foods are normally placed on the right side of the table while cold and dry foods are placed on the left side.

The rice bowl is placed on the left side of the table, and soup bowl is placed on the right, with other bowls placed in the centre.

The spoon is placed to the right of the rice bowl or cabbage dish. Chop sticks are placed behind the spoon.

Kimchi dishes are placed in the back row, stew dishes on the right, sauces in the middle of the front row, meat dishes on the right side, and vegetables on the left side.

Food is normally served for the group unless it is rice or soup dish. If you are not sure whether the good is for individual or group, please do ask your Korean friend. You will be given an individual dish with some sliced cabbage and sauce in it, it is common practice to pick the main food (like barbequed meat) using chopsticks from the common dish to your individual dish. Sauces also come in individual small dish for each guest. There are many types of sauces served such as soy sauce, vinegar sauce, sweet and sour sauce and/or hot pepper soybean paste.

While eating, try to keep pace with others by eating not too fast or too slow. If you are having a meal with the elderly, bosses or important customers, wait for them to put the spoon and chopsticks on the table at the end of the meal before you do the same. Your spoon and chopsticks should be placed on the same spot where they were initially placed. Fold the used napkins if they come in big size, and place it on the table.

Source
Sungnyung
Sungnyung

AT THE END OF THE MEAL

To conclude the meal, Koreans like to consume sungnyung, a traditional Korean beverage made from boiled scorched rice. The common practice is to pour sungnyung into the rice bowl and drink. If you do not like the taste, you can drink some and leave it aside.

When using a toothpick, cover your mouth with one hand and discard the toothpick when you are done, and place it under a napkin so that it is invisible to others.

At the end of the meal, when the seniors or customers are getting up, you should get up together.

CHOPSTICKS MANNER

Proper conduct when using the chopsticks is very important if you would like to present a good image to the Koreans.

It is consider a rude behaviour to point with your chopsticks when you are talking or trying to point at something or somebody. So, remember to put down your chopsticks if you would like to talk with your hand motions.

Do not leave your chopsticks sticking out of the rice bowl. This is a taboo, as they practise this in a funeral ritual.

Always use chopsticks when picking up the food. Avoid using your bare hands however more convenient that will be. It is alright to ask for a fork if you are struggling with the metal and flat shaped chopsticks.

Avoid making noises with spoon or chopsticks like hitting the rice bowl or other food containers. This is considered as rude behaviour.

Avoid leaving anything on your plate. You can indicate that you are full by keeping your chopsticks resting on the table.

Using Chopsticks in Korea

Copyright

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are owned by Ingenira who hereby asserts her copyright on the material. Permission must be granted by the author in writing prior to copy or republish this article in print or online. However, please feel free to copy the first paragraph with a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Ingenira

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Comments 54 comments

Maria Cecilia profile image

Maria Cecilia 3 years ago from Philippines

Very interesting... I love Korean culture, movies, drama and Hajiwon LOL.... I really appreciate this, made me think how I will behave just in case I will have a chance to dine-in with my favorite Korean Actress


creativespirit63 profile image

creativespirit63 4 years ago from Omaha, Nebraska

I appreciated reading this! For a number of years I have been writing English lessons for a company in South Korea. This information helps me to be able to write with a better awareness of culture and meal practices.


Ab 4 years ago

Thanks for that, that is great to know, weirdly I'm not Korean, yet I do most of those table manner, apart from leaving my cutlery on the side we leave it on the plate and the knife and fork need to be together so that you know we have finished, we also put them down but slightly open if we are going to talk, so to show that we have not yet finished! I would have to have a fork to eat the rice I think, unfortunately I don't eat any of that kind of food, so I guess I would seem like a very rude person :/. Thanks again for such a great article :)


Levertis Steele profile image

Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

If you are offered seconds, refuse it until it is offered again.(?) That's lying if you really want it. I mostly enjoy learning about other cultures, unless something is too extreme. I believe that I can create a way to handle that offer without offending or lying. I would probably refuse it altogether. I could always pick up a Big Mac later. :D

This is certainly an informative article! I voted up and clicked other positives.


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

A very interesting and informative article. Thanks for sharing as I don´t have any idea about dining etiquette in South Korea. Voted up and useful.


Chris Hugh 4 years ago

Very enjoyable hub, so interesting how much we have in common. These are mch the same rules polite people in the US follow.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

I really like your matter-of-fact approach to educating diners about Korean dining etiquette. I have not had the occasion to enjoy such an experience, but when I do, I will be prepared to the point where at least I won't make a rude idiot of myself.

What stands out to me, and what other commenters have also mentioned, is the respect shown to elders and to others in a position of authority. This respect is sadly missing in too many places.

Voted up, useful, and awesome.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

thanks, carrie for your comment. Same as you, I dare not look into the face of someone who talks with food in his/her mouth. I am afraid it will spoil my appetite. LOL...

thank you too, funmontrealgirl. I have been to Montreal once when I was young and loved the city.

I love the Korean food too and I can actually cook some of them !


funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

Very good information and voted up. I love Korean food and frequent Korean restaurants. Especially love Korean BBQ!


carriethomson profile image

carriethomson 5 years ago from United Kingdom

Hey great hub very true watching your manners when you dine is really important. One more thing that is gross is talking with food in your mouth!! Why can’t people finish the morsel first and then talk, if they have to!!

carrie


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

thank you, ubanichijioke. Korean culture is very unique, and I think your culture is very unique too, and I hope to read about your culture one day.


ubanichijioke profile image

ubanichijioke 5 years ago from Lagos

Awesome! I can say am a korean now. Good, helpful and great information. You ve done a great job.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

thank you, Lyn.Stewart. :)


Lyn.Stewart profile image

Lyn.Stewart 5 years ago from Auckland, New Zealand

brilliant thank you


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Hi Claudin, glad to see you again. :) I love the smiley cafe on your avatar.

Yes, you should visit Korea one day, it is an eye-opening experience to visit the country.


Claudin_Dayo profile image

Claudin_Dayo 5 years ago from Southeast Asia

Pity me for reading this just now =(

I am a huge fan of the Koreans, and at the moment I'm doing my best to learn both their language and how to write it.

I love this hub, really for in the near future I'm planning to visit the said country :D

thanks for this =)


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thank you, Peter. Glad to follow you.


Peter Owen profile image

Peter Owen 5 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

Very informative, and thx for following me.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

thank you, toknowinfo. :)


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

This is a very valuable hub. It is so important to know about the customs in other countries. Thanks for sharing.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

LOL, Jasmine, thanks for sharing your story. Korean food can be really delicious, you could have just enjoyed the food offered.


Jasmine JellyBaby 5 years ago

I remember when I went to South Korea back in 2007 to attend a wedding, we went out for dinner at a very nice restaurant. I had no idea about their eating conduct, luckily my Korean friend was a brilliant translator. It was the longest dinner of my life as I was so hungry I could eat the whole table! but I was so nervous and afraid of making an ass of myself I kept saying no to everything..

Finally when I got back to my hotel, I ordered the largest meal ever and ate like a pig all by myself!!

But I do admire their customs.. I wish we westerners too had respect for our elders and have this type of etiquette..

Excellent hub hun, thank you! Voted this up too


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thank you pinkchic, glad to see you again ! :) Knowing etiquette from another country is great to foster better relationship with people from that country. It's way to make new foreign friends too. :)


Pinkchic18 profile image

Pinkchic18 5 years ago from Minnesota

These are very helpful tips! I'm always intrigued when I hear about etiquette from all over the world. Very nice hub.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks, Trish, appreciate your comment.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi Ingenira :)

I find it fascinating to note the differences and similarities between various cultures. That was really interesting :)


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

yenajeon, glad to see you here. Thank you so much for reading and appreciate your comment. :) Thank you !


yenajeon profile image

yenajeon 5 years ago from California

I'm Korean, so of course this was interesting to me, and quite accurate! Thumbs Up!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Glad you do, Katie. :)


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

Dining Etiquette and Table Manners are a beautiful expression of ones respect for themselves, others and the wonderful food prepared by wonderful people. I enjoyed dos and don'ts in Korea. :) Katie


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Appreciate your comment, dreamreachout. I'd love to know more about the dining culture in India.


dreamreachout 5 years ago

Wonderful hub though I must say much of it matches with the practise in India!! Preference to the elderly is important in India but I suppose that it holds good everywhere in the world!!

Cheers!!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment, 3cardmonte. Hope this hub encourages more people to have better table manners. :)


3cardmonte 5 years ago

Excellent hub. Many people nowadays do not have manners at all!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment, magnoliazz. I agree with you to a certain extend. I think nobody wants to cough or sneeze in front of anyone, but it can be hard to control it and be excused to do it elsewhere soon enough.


magnoliazz profile image

magnoliazz 5 years ago from Wisconsin

A great hub! Just one other thing, I think it is rude to blow your nose at the table, no matter what country you are in. It grosses me out when people do this!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

thank you, globalgirl. :)


Yourglobalgirl profile image

Yourglobalgirl 5 years ago from UK

A really interesting article. Thank you


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Haha... wordscribe43. Yeah, I'd avoid dog meat too. I think dog meat is only sold in certain restaurant, and they actually mentioned it in Chinese "Dog Meat" on a signboard outside the shop.


wordscribe43 profile image

wordscribe43 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

Whoa, I could have used this before I was in Seoul. I used to live in Japan, so I appreciate all the dining faux pas you mention. When I was in South Korea, I only worried about one thing while I was dining... was I eating DOG meat? Agh. Anyway, fabulous hub.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Very true, Betty, whether you are in foreign country or at home, it will be appreciated if all of us watch our table manners.


Betty Johansen profile image

Betty Johansen 5 years ago

Being polite and respectful, same as you would be at an American table, would help a lot at a Korean table. But then, there are some twists - turn down the second helping on the first offer, but then it's okay to accept another helping. And only eat side dishes from your own side of the table.

I have a feeling people should send teenage boys away when entertaining Koreans. I can just see a couple of 14-year-olds doing battle with their chopsticks. Shocking behavior!

An engaging, informative hub. Thanks!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

thanks, twentyfive, appreciate your comment. :)


twentyfive profile image

twentyfive 5 years ago

Very informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing these table manners in Korea. :)


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks, MastiffPuppies. Glad to see you here, I hope your son will enjoy the article.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks, Ritchie. Yes, there are some differences like the flat metal chopsticks, I was actually struggling with it initially. And the locals try to get me the Chinese chopsticks or fork. lol...


MyMastiffPuppies profile image

MyMastiffPuppies 5 years ago

Very interesting read! I am bookmarking it to share with my son who is at college, he will really enjoy it. I used to be proud of the manners we had here in the South (US) but they seem to be a disappearing way of life.


richtwf profile image

richtwf 5 years ago

An interesting hub and as I read this I was also noting any similarity or dissimilarity between the way Koreans and Chinese eat.

Thanks for sharing my friend and God bless.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks, glenn. Oh, kalbi and soju tasted great together ! I'd love to take that with the locals.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks, VioletSun, glad to see you here. Yes, me too, I love the way how the young generations are still very respectful of the old. In fact, many foreigners has commented the same.


glenn wallace profile image

glenn wallace 5 years ago

Very nice hub! Just reading this gave me a terrible hankering for kalbi and soju.


VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 5 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

Good tips of which I was unaware! I love the fact that Koreans are respectful of the older generation, wish it was this way worldwide.

Enjoyed your hub!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago Author

Thanks, Nightweaver, for your comment. Hope it will be helpful in your Korean trip. Korea is an amazing country, rich with its own culture. You should see the country and feel the culture at least once in your lifetime.


Nightweaver 5 years ago

Pretty informative. Thanks for writing this, I'll be sure to refer it, if I ever go to Korea.

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