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Dining Etiquette in South Korea

March 15th, 2018

Dining Etiquette in South Korea

If you own or work for a multi-national organization, you may have to travel abroad at least on occasion. Traveling is a great way to gain exposure to new foods and traditions, and heading to South Korea is no exception. While you’ll probably have plenty of opportunities to try new foods when you visit South Korea, you’ll have to abide by the rules of South Korean food etiquette whenever you sit down for a meal. 


The Basics of Dining Etiquette in South Korea

If you never want to have to pour your own drink, South Korea is the place for you. Dining etiquette in South Korea mandates that your neighbor fill your glass, and you fill your neighbor’s cup. You have to be on constant alert for when your neighbor’s glass needs to be refilled.

If the person’s glass is less than half full, you should refill it instantly to remain in good standing with dining etiquette in South Korea. If your glass falls below half full and your neighbor fails to refill your beverage, refrain from pouring yourself another drink. If you refill your own glass, you will embarrass your neighbor.

If you want more to drink, you can subtly indicate your need for more beverage by pouring more into your neighbor’s glass even if it’s more than half full. When you pour for someone else, remember to do so using the appropriate gestures. If you’re unsure what gestures to use, look to your tablemates for clues and cues.

The Do's of Dining Etiquette in South Korea

Food etiquette in South Korea mandates that you eat your food with chopsticks, not your hands or Western-style utensils. You should use your chopsticks to cut or break up your food whenever necessary as you will not find a knife on the table.

A lot of South Korean food is marinated, so slicing through it with chopsticks is normally easy to do. Unlike Japan, leaving some food on your plate or in your bowl at the end of a meal is okay in South Korea.

If you must, it’s also permissible to bend over to eat your rice. It’s never acceptable to lift your rice bowl to your lips to consume its contents, however.

South Korean dining etiquette requires you to wait to begin eating until the most senior person at the table is served and starts to eat. If you’re unsure about when you should take your first bite, follow the lead of your South Korean companions.

The Don'ts of Dining Etiquette in South Korea

In general, South Korean chopsticks don’t come in plastic wrappers. While you can’t rest your chopsticks on a wrapper, you still need to prevent the “mouth ends” of your chopsticks from touching the table by putting the ends you eat from on the side of your plate.

According to food etiquette in South Korea, it’s rude to lay your chopsticks parallel to one another across the top of a bowl of rice. It is equally rude to put pieces of food you don’t plan to eat in a used rice bowl. To avoid offending your peers, don’t do either of the things just mentioned.

Depending on the dish, your meal may be served family-style, with everyone taking food from a single communal serving dish. If that’s the case, each serving dish may have its own set of serving chopsticks. While you’re free to use the serving chopsticks to transfer food to your plate, you should never keep the serving chopsticks. You should always return the serving chopsticks to the appropriate dish when you’re done using them.

If you’re going to travel to South Korea for business, Quintessentially People can help you put together a team of highly-trained, experienced professionals to accompany you. Contact us for any of your business recruiting needs!