Observing Korean Etiquette at the Table
Etiquette at the dinner table is a timeless and traditional Korean way of dining. It helps to know that if you are an invited guests, a few rules concerning politeness can make the event pleasurable and memorable.
You have to wait for the oldest person(s) to sit down first before you take a seat at the table. Usually the oldest person is the honored guest who takes the seat of honor farthest from the door. Especially when you are at someone’s home, it’s polite to say that you are looking forward to the meal. In Korean, you say “Jal-mug-eh-seum-nee-da” meaning “I will eat well.”
At the beginning the meal, you wait for the oldest person(s) to lift their spoon or chopsticks first before you start eating.
During the meal, you try to eat at the same pace as everyone else, especially the elders. You don’t rush or linger. Do not hold the bowl of soup or rice; bowls are left on the table while eating. Now, since there are side dishes at the table that are communal, only take enough for yourself while ensuring there’s enough for others. Don’t take so much that you can’t finish, as that is considered wasteful. Try not to touch food if you don’t intend to eat it. Don’t stick your chopsticks into your bowl because that resembles a traditional Korean ancestor ceremony for the deceased. It’s disrespectful and a sign of bad luck. When you’re done, utensils go back to their placement on the table. In Korean culture, it is respectful to clean your plate.
As far as drinks are concerned, always pour drinks for others first, especially for those senior to you. If your neighbor’s glass is half empty that is when you would customarily refill it; your neighbor will likewise do the same for you. It’s not considered polite to refuse an alcoholic drink offered to you, especially from an elder. As in any social situation, you should be aware of how much alcohol you consume. When someone senior pours a drink for you, hold out your cup with both hands to accept (this also holds true for someone passing you a side dish or something else at the table). When you pour for someone senior to you, place your other hand lightly under your pouring hand or under your opposite elbow.
At the end of the meal, acknowledge your hosts. If someone has hosted you in their home or treated you to a meal out, it is customary to acknowledge your thanks after the meal. In Korean, you say “Jal-mug-uh-sseum-nee-da” meaning “I ate well.”
Being Our Guest at UW Korean Restaurant
Do you want to know more about Korean dining etiquette? Then be our happy guest when you come to Korean Tofu House, one of UW’s most popular Korean restaurants. See you soon!