If you’re traveling to Korea or are newly living in Korea, you’re most likely going to want to go to a Korean restaurant in Korea. But even a simple thing like asking for the check can make your servers chuckle. Make sure you don’t look like a fool by following this guide on how to eat Korean food like a local!
Photo source: Used with permission from Dustin Cole, a Seoul-based photographer
Photo source: Sleepwalking in Tokyo
Note: These tips are for typical, local Korean restaurants in Korea. Western restaurants in Korea (i.e. Italian, steak, etc.) and more upscale (aka expensive) restaurants in Korea may not apply.
Sit Wherever You Like
Photo source: Daniel Food Diary
Walk into a local Korean restaurant and take a seat. Most Korean restaurants in Korea, if not filled to capacity, won’t have a host or hostess to seat you. If there’s an open seat, it’s yours for the taking.
Get The Waitress' Attention - Press A Button, Or Really Get Their Attention
Sitting at a table waiting for the waitress to come around? Raising your hand hoping to get their attention? Chances are you’ll be just as unnoticed as the quiet and nerdy kid sitting in the back of the classroom. First thing’s first, look for a button on the table. And just like Field of Dreams, “if you press it, they will come.” If there is no button, make sure you’re not sheepish about calling them over. To get their attention, do as the Koreans do and say a nice, heartyjeogiyo (저기요 – excuse me) — be firm and confident. Don’t worry about being impolite. As long as you’re not screaming it, they’ll take it in stride.
Tip 1: Waiters/waitresses share in the serving duties (you’re not designated a server).
Tip 2: A friendlier way to address a waitress is to say eonni (언니 – older sister) or emo (이모 – auntie). Don’t worry, most men don’t care what you call them (seriously).
Find Utensils Then Place On Top Of A Napkin
At local Korean restaurants in Korea, utensils are typically found at the table you’re sitting at. Look for a box with a lid on the table. Once you do find them, place a napkin on the table and put your utensils on top of it. Most Korean locals do this to ensure whatever is going into your mouth is clean. It’s not that the restaurants in Korea are unclean. It’s just an added level of security. Germaphobes unite!
Tip 1: Can’t find the utensils? Don’t forget to look under the table as well—they might be tidily placed in a drawer.
Share Your Food
Photo source: Chang
Although this is an oxymoron for protecting oneself against germs, if you’re eating with locals at a Korean restaurant in Korea, be prepared to share your food. Korean culture places a lot of emphasis on sharing, and that means you’ll see a lot of different spoons in the same pot and ripping up large pieces of kimchi with chopsticks that were just in someone’s mouth. Don’t be freaked out, it’s bound to happen!
Tip 1: If you’re uncomfortable with this, people will understand. Ask for an extra dish (ap jeobshi – 앞 접시) and take what you need.