There’s a saying in Korea that “the customer is king.” And nothing makes people feel like Joson era royalty more than free stuff! To keep customers happy (and to keep them coming back), many businesses in Korea will give away free things — called “service” (서비스 – seobiseu). The free things you can get differ from the type of business, and not all places willingly give service. But someone tells you it’s on the house, it’s not only free stuff, it’s a big smile :D.
Although you can find some service at big name chains and franchises, you’ll have the most luck scoring free stuff with privately owned businesses. Many businesses will also readily advertise on fliers what they’re giving away. They might even have people roaming the streets trying to get you into their stores, enticing you with free stuff. But the three most common places to get service is Korean BBQ restaurants (i.e. galbi, samgyupsal), bars and noraebang. Other types of businesses also offer service, but these are the most common.
Free galbi? WHAT?! You’re crazy. That doesn’t happen! (If it does, let us know, we’d like to go too!). But if you’re eating galbi like a Korean local, most people order doenjang jjigae or naengmyeon after their galbi. It’s a common way to finish off a typical Korean galbi meal. So if you’ve already ordered a lot of meat, many places will give these two items as service. It’s kind of like free ice cream at the end of a meal. But… it’s soy bean paste stew. And if you’re not a fan of soy, many places will also offer drinks (i.e. alcohol, sodas) for free as well.
When going to a noraebang in Korea, you get a private room with your own karaoke machine to belt out 2PM songs with your friends without embarrassment (ok, maybe a little :P). The only charge is the room time which is put in by the noraebang staff. But since pushing a few buttons to give you more time doesn’t cost anything, most noraebang will be agreeable to giving you service. This is especially true if it’s off-peak hours and there won’t be anyone using the room anyway. Other service include free drinks (alcoholic & non-alcoholic).
Upscale bars in Seoul can have drinks that run for 10,000 won or more a drink, and there’s no way they’re giving that away for free. Instead, head over to a local Korean bar (called “hof”) where they serve the good and cheap stuff: beer and soju. And since Korean’s usually order food — called anju — when drinking (see why here), many places will offer free anju to customers. Also, oddly enough, the more drinks you order, the more chance you have to get free “service” drinks. Maybe it’s their way of trying to get rid of you :P.
Sometimes you’ll know what kind of things you’ll get as service before you even sit down. The fliers will say so, or you might have talked to someone who got you with the free goods. But it’s not like it’s their main goal in life to give away free stuff. Rather, most of the time, you’ll have to ask. That’s it. Just ask! Here’s a few different ways to ask:
1) → 서비스 없어요? (seobiseu eopseoyo?) – Is there no service?
2) → 서비스으로 주시면 안 되요? (seobiseueuro jusimyeon an doeyo?) – Could we get this as service, please? (specific item)
But here’s a few other ways to up your chances:
I worked in a giftshop before and a lot of times people would ask for free stuff whenever they bought more expensive things, aegyo included ^^
lmao well this will help keep the budget down when I’m in korea…
There’s a free bus service this year from March 1st to August 25th from Seoul to Jeonju. This is free for foreigners if they sign up.
For more information check: http://jeonju.chesstours.co.kr/en/index.php
I hope they will also offer a free bus service to Busan. 😀
Does service also apply to Korean restaurants outside of Korea? For example, next month I plan to go to KBBQ for my birthday, will they give us service if I bring 10 people and we’re all going to be eating a ton of food? So far the only service I’ve encountered has been free japchae at a sushi restaurant when I spoke a little Korean for the wait staff’s amusement.
Could apply! Especially if its your birthday with 10 people! Remind them it’s your birthday 🙂
But my observation is, it seems to vary depending on the skin color 😉
I’ve got a brand new neck warmer from the ski clothes rental shop. My instructor accused me of calling the boys working there “oppa” :p
I live in california and have had the following “services”
– free kyeran jjim or pajeon or soondubu at korean restaurants
– free compact mirror/coin purse from clothing store (I think they stopped doing this though, darn)
– always always get free samples from the face shop (korean cosmetic store). non-Korean places sometimes do this too, but the face shop does it no matter how much or little I buy~ even if I only spent 5 usd
When I went to Korea, we went to a noraebang late at night, and the ajumma gave us a whole extra hour because she thought we were good singers. Ahahaha.
The first time I bought anything in Korea, I got service. 😀 It was late, I came straight to the University from Incheon, and I was super hungry. So I went to the closest Mini Stop and got myself a Kimbap. The owner was really happy that a foreigner was buying stuff from her store and gave me a can of Pepsi for free. I knew right then and there that this thing between me and Korea is love. ^_^
Aside from the free samples from cosmetic shops, I got service wherein at first, I felt my personal space was invaded. So, I was at a shop in Myeongdong to look for a hoodie, and the owner (or maybe the saleslady), stuffed some 2-3 cherry tomatoes in my mouth ha ha ha.
Also the old lady where my friend and I often buy street food at gave us even more street food for free! Yay! LOL.
I was buying figs from a traditional market across the street from where I live, and I told the lady I live just across the street, and she threw in an extra fig! And they were expensive! And she was selling them in piles of 10, so she kinda pulled apart one of her little pyramids. 🙂
I guess it makes me want to go back to her next time I buy fruit.
I love going to 노래방s here in my country and though I’ve been to Korea many times, it was my first time last May to actually go to one in 홍대. I was surprised when I checked the time, we got an hour more! I told my friend about that (worrying if it would cost much more) and she said it was free! COOL. But yeah, it was during off-peak hours so 😀