Korean Dining Etiquette
In some areas of the world, it’s common to use over 6 utensils over the course of one meal, in other regions, there may be no utensils at all! Here are some helpful things to pick up before you dine out in Korea.
The main tools for eating at a Korean dining table are chopsticks and a spoon. Unlike many other East Asian cuisines that use wooden chopsticks, Koreans use metal utensils that are somewhat trickier to use due to their slippery surfaces. When sitting down at many Korean restaurants, there will be a drawer in the table or a box that holds the spoons and chopsticks. There are utensil cleaning services that will keep the top of the spoon and chopsticks covered in a plastic or paper wrap. Koreans care a lot about cleanliness so this is to show how fresh the utensils are.
It is uncommon to tip in Korea and is generally not a custom. Some major hotels may charge a 10% value-added tax but most prices have already incorporated the sales tax. If you try to leave money for a restaurant or a taxi, they will probably return it to you and think it was a mistake. Even when you are really happy with service somewhere, it is best to not try and tip in order to avoid confusion.
Side Dishes (Ban Chan)
Almost every restaurant, no matter how small or inexpensive, will serve side dishes at the beginning of the meal before your first or main course arrives. Kimchi is a main staple of Koreans so it comes with nearly every meal. When a waiter brings you small dishes, it wasn’t a misorder! Ban chan is complimentary with every meal. Sometimes it’s just a dish of kimchi and pickled yellow radish but some restaurants may give you 10 to 20 small side dishes! Another great thing about these free plates is you can always ask for refills!