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: