Korean Table Manners

If you’re ever going to come to Korea or meet Korean meals, you’ll of course end up eating with some Korean people. When that happens, make sure you don’t offend anyone! Watch this video on table Korean manners, and make sure your etiquette is up to par.

Short list of Korean table manners:
1. Say “thank you” with 잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokkessseumnida)
This literally means “I will eat well.” But this is a phrase used at Korean meals to thank the person who is paying.

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2. Don’t stick your utensils in the rice. This is a huge faux pax in Korea as this is done only at ceremonies honoring the dead in Korea. Do not do this.

3. Wait for the oldest person to start eating before you start eating. In Korea, it’s considered manners to let the oldest person lead the way. If you’re meeting someone who you want to be respectful to that isn’t the oldest person (i.e. business meeting), you may say 먼저 드세요 (meonjeo deuseyo) to say “Please eat first.” It’s a polite way to get the meal started.

4. Leave your bowls and plates on the table. Don’t bring them up to your mouth as this is not considered good table etiquette in Korea.

5. Use one utensil at a time. Even if you’re really tempted by all the good Korean food on the table, make sure you use one utensil at a time (unless you’re cutting up a steak or something ;))

6. Blowing your nose at the table is considered poor table etiquette in Korea. Make sure you do that in the bathroom unless you want people to think you’re gross.

7. Say thanks for the meal again. In any culture, if someone is buying you a meal, you should of course thank them. People will think you have excellent Korean table manners if you say thank you by saying 잘 먹었습니다 (jal meokeossseumnida), which literally means “I ate well.” Use this phrase to say thank you in Korean.

About Keith

Keith Kim is a Korean-American living in Seoul, Korea. He likes espresso shots, photography art and he loves his Playstation 3. He started seoulistic.com as a hobby site, and is now in the process of turning it into a full-time business. Wish him luck! Check out his blog for an uncensored view on entrepreneurship, dating and life in Korea.Personal Blog: gyopokeith.com Facebook: facebook.com/gyopokeithkim Twitter: @gyopokeith Youtube: "Gyopokeithe-mail me anytime at: gyopokeith [at] gmail.com

15 comments

  1. Nice post – although I must say I was surprised about the not bringing the bowl/dish to your mouth though, as I see this done all the time by my Korean friends & their families when out in restaurants! Maybe I just hang out with a lot of ill-cultured people?

  2. Jenn

    Ooooo, I’m excited to see this, because I have a question! My friend is dating a Korean-American and frequently has dinner at his mom’s house. One day one of the 이모’s saw her eating her rice with her chopsticks and slapped her hand. She told my friend that wasn’t proper, that she should eat her rice with her spoon. (No, my friend wasn’t sticking the chopsticks in the rice upright!) My friend had two objections: (1) This is really inconvenient; you’re eating everything else with your chopsticks; why on earth would you put them down to pick up a spoon for the rice? (2) Nobody else was eating this way, not even the 이모! So my question is… what gives? Is this a genuine table etiquette thing? What do people in Korea really do? What should visitors do? Thanks! Awesome video!

  3. @Tom – The sticking your chopsticks in the rice and blowing your nose are big no-no’s. The other ones are mostly for when eating in a more formal setting :)

    @ Jenn – that sounds like a very traditional way of eating food. I think it depends on the family (weird that the 이모 doesn’t even follow her own rule tho ??). But i’ve seen tons of people in Korea eat rice with chopsticks all the time. :) I think in that case, following the etiquette of that specific family would be best.

  4. Letícia

    Congratulations for this site, I really really enjoy it. You guys are good teaching and those things are very interesting. I will always follow you here. Thanks for more one video!

  5. Ola

    it’s very useful and interesting~ thank u :)

  6. mirea iuliana

    Your comment…verry interesting.i enjoyed watching this

  7. Maeva

    oh gosh, Im ashamed now, I lived with some korean and of course we ate a lot of korean food and it was too spicy for me and I always blow my nose at the table, in France its not disrespectful or rude so I didnt care of it. No I feel so ashamed I did this while eating
    Thanks for the tips :)

  8. Jade

    Thanks for the manual, though it came out too late for me. I commited the most horrifying of these ‘crimes’. I may never be able to blow my nose without feeling guilt :oP …And after that I even tried to pay for my meal … Undermining the gentlemens authority. Poor guys, they probably recieved a huge culture shock. Oh well they have to toughen up sooner or later, new country new rules. lol
    Anyway, babbling aside: Thank you again, now I know how to avoid Koreans running away screaming. :o)

  9. Lynn

    Keith! Awesome video, just recently found this site. Now i know not to blow my nose at the table now lol I enjoyed the video. Annyeong!

  10. I’ve been noticing in Korean Dramas / Reality Variety Shows; Regarding soup or stew for main dishes, everyone first test the broth of the dish first then comment on how good it is to finally dig in.

  11. As a Vietnamese person I can’t stand not having a small rice bowl in hand aka ‘my holding bowl.’ In Vietnamese culture you cannot grab something from a shared dish and it eat it directly to your mouth. You have to place it down on your own plate or bowl before eating it. There is also a lot of reaching involved to avoid spilling. Lastly it is a helper to feed in food because the idea is that the distance of the table and your mouth is too far (or back then when sitting the floor to your mouth which is even farther). Usually in Korean restaurants I ask for an empty bowl because Korean medal bowls are too hot! I’ll reconsider etiquette when I’m at Korean establishments. Ya’ll have an awesome blog going on, keep up the good work!

  12. Bonnie

    Is it rude to chew with your mouth open/talk with food in your mouth?

  13. sophie

    what if my nose is constantly runny(i regularly have bad colds) i don’t want to go to the bathroom back and fourth =.=

  14. Diane

    Often times, older people encourage me to start eating first. It’s always a little awkward as I get confused how to show them deference by either making sure they start eating first or adhering to their request! Sometimes, I’ll try to hold out and say “oh no, I’ll wait” but often becomes a battle of wills that plays out a lot like wrestling for the check. But now I feel like I should have been more stubborn about not eating first; probably shamed my parents haha.