Korean Table Manners

Politeness is very important in Korean culture, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on sharing meals and drinks. Although some of the older traditions have relaxed in recent years, this list of Korean table manners includes etiquette still in use today. You will probably find that Korean dining etiquette isn't all that different from what you're used to. Learning a few extra steps helps you to be a great guest. 

  • 01 of 14

    Wait to Be Seated

    A mother and child having a meal in Korean restaurant

    Tang Ming Tung / Stone / Getty Images

    Wait for the oldest person/people to sit down first before you take a seat at the table. The honored guest who is also usually the oldest person takes the seat of honor farthest from the door.

  • 02 of 14

    Before You Begin

    Before you eat, especially at someone's home, it's polite to say that you are looking forward to the meal. In Korean, people say Jalmukesumneda (I will eat well).

  • 03 of 14

    Beginning the Meal

    Wait for the oldest person/people to lift their spoon or chopsticks first before you start eating. Don't worry; it won't take long.

  • 04 of 14

    During the Meal

    Don't blow your nose at the table. This is considered extremely rude. If you need to use a tissue, then excuse yourself to another room. While this may seem excessive to some cultures, it does help prevent the spread of germs.

    Continue to 5 of 14 below.
  • 05 of 14

    Don't Rush or Linger

    Try to eat at the same pace as everyone else, especially the elders. This helps to make the meal more enjoyable for everyone. 

  • 06 of 14

    Soup and Rice Bowls

    During the meal, don't hold the bowl of soup or rice (as you might do in other Asian countries like China or Japan). In Korea, bowls are left on the table while eating. 

  • 07 of 14

    Double Dipping

    Korean meals have many communal side dishes you should treat them the same way you would food at a cocktail party. Make sure that you take enough for yourself while ensuring there's enough for others. Try not to touch food if you don't intend to eat it.

  • 08 of 14

    Refilling Your Glass

    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. This also means that it is your neighbor's job to keep your glass refilled as well. 

    Continue to 9 of 14 below.
  • 09 of 14

    Offers of Alcohol

    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 and how it affects you. 

  • 10 of 14

    Accepting Dishes or Drinks

    When someone senior pours a drink for you, hold out your cup with both hands to accept (this also holds for someone passing you a side dish or something else at the table).

  • 11 of 14

    Pouring Drinks

    When you pour for someone senior to you, place your other hand lightly under your pouring hand or your opposite elbow.

  • 12 of 14

    Placement of Utensils on the Table

    Don't stick your chopsticks straight up into your bowl because it resembles traditional Korean ancestor ceremonies. It's not only disrespectful but also considered a sign of bad luck. When you're done, utensils go back on the table.

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  • 13 of 14

    Don't Waste Food

    Don't take so much food that you can't finish, as that is considered wasteful. In Korean culture, it is respectful to clean your plate. 

  • 14 of 14

    Acknowledging 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, people say masegaemugusuyo (I ate well).