Dining Out in Korea: What to Expect


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Korea has some of the most delicious food in the world. Before gorging yourself on dishes like samgyubsal or kalbi, it can help to know some of the main differences in dining culture in Korea.

  1. Many things are “self-service.”

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In Korea, many things are up to the customer to grab, which allows the restaurant to save time and money. For instance, you can find a sign that says “Water is Self,” which means that if you want water, you need to get it yourself. Some places even make their banchan, or side dishes, self-service. Additionally, many restaurants do not come with utensils and place settings ready for their customers. Instead, there is a small drawer attached to every table that contains eating utensils, napkins, and sometimes wet tissues for the customers to use. This can be quite convenient, because you don’t have to wait for the server every time you need something. It also speeds up the process of getting the tables cleared and also allows customers to be seated more quickly. So don’t panic if you can’t find the chopsticks or water. Just open the little drawer and look for the water filter machine in the restaurant.

  1. Pay the bill up front

In most restaurants, after you order, the server will put your bill on your table immediately and update the bill as you order more. When you are finished with your meal and are ready to pay, you simply take your bill to the front counter, usually near the entryway, to pay. You don’t need to wait until you have the waiter’s attention to get the check, pay, get your change, etc.

  1. Use the call bell when you need something

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Although you can still holler at the waiters or wait for them to walk past you to get their attention, Korean restaurants use a more efficient method. At most restaurants in Korea, every table has a small call bell that rings loudly when you press it. When servers hear the ring from your table, they know that you are seeking their assistance and will check in on your table. 

  1. No tip is needed and tax is included

Since most things are self-service in Korean restaurants, you do not need to tip the servers. It is very uncommon to tip in the Korean service industry in general. To make it more convenient to pay and split the bill, all Korean food prices include the tax. Because there is no tip and additional tax, you can expect to pay exactly the price that is found on the menu rather than adding tax and a 20% tip before figuring out how much each person pays. 

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Now that you know what to expect in Korean restaurants, we hope that you enjoy all the delicious food that Korea has to offer!

Not sure where to start on your Korean food adventure? Here are some GOA’L staff favorites:

Julianna: 만두 // mandu

Leanna: 찜닭 // jjimdalk (with cheese!)

Shae: 닭갈비 // dalkgalbi 

Jes: 삼겹살 // samgyeopsal

Damien: 독도새우 // Dokdo shrimp

Author: Eva Kim

Editor: Leanna French

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