Table Etiquette - Korea Tourism Organization

Koreans have not only produced recipes of foods & beverages in their own way, but also created table etiquette and dining types according to certain customs. While the dining types may change depending on the ingredients, traditional table etiquette stays same.

In traditional Korean dining all foods are brought to table at the same time. Services on the table are arranged for one person: Everyone has a plate, leftover plate, chopsticks, and depending on the foods serves spoon.

Meal Types
1- Dining: For standard dining, rice is main dish. Banchan (side dishes) are arranged according to recipe, color, and heat of the food. The number of side dishes can be set as 3, 5, 7, 9, 12.

2- Porridge Meal: Main dish is porridge in this meal. It is accompanied by side dishes which have no salt or lower levels of salt, like nabak-kimchi (seasoned and fermented radish), bugeo-bopuragi (dried  coalfish porridge), jeotguk-jjigae (fermented seafood stew).

3- Noodle Meal: It is a lunch or snack meal, composed of noodles, tteokguk and sauces.

4- Liquor Table: This setting is for entertaining guests and for having a good time. Several appetizers such as dried meat, fish slices, jeon, pyeonyuk, jjim, jeongol, saengchae, kimchi, fruits, rice cake are served with liquor.

5- Refreshing Table: It is a type of setting without alcohol. People enjoy dirinks like gaksaekpyeon, yumilgwa, yugwa, dasik, suksilgwa, saengsilgwa, hwachae and tea.

6- Grand Dining: In this meal a crowded number of people are served, especially during special event like holidays and ceremonies.

Table Manners
In Korean culture, dining etiquette and table manners are strictly defined. Behaving not accordingly may be accepted as disrespect. The most important points can be summarized as such:

  • Seating is arranged according to either age or status. Most respected ones sit in the middle, while the youngest ones or people with the lowest status take places close to the door.
  • Seniors are the first to be served, to lift their chopsticks or spoons, and to start eating. After their initiation, others can eat.
  • Spoon is only for rice and soup; for all the other foods chopsticks are used. Foods cannot be touched by hand; and plates cannot be lift up.
  • Foods, which are in easy range, are reached to.
  • Denying a food or a drink may be seen as a non polite action.
  • When dining is finished, chopsticks and spoon are put on their places neatly.
  • In meals at home, there may be a little leftover except rice, which is expected to be finished totally.
  • If the meal is taken in restaurant, no matter how forcefully a contribution is offered, generally inviting person pays the bill. Except for Western style restaurants and hotels, no tip is left.