Trazy’s 8 Step Guide to Korean Restaurant Culture
Even the most experienced foodies can feel lost at authentic Korean restaurants. Follow these 8 steps to enjoy the flavours of Korea like a local.
1. FIND THE BEST!
The most delicious Korean restaurants are often hidden in basements or behind small alley ways. Locals use Naver Cafe, a Korean-language-only free blogging service used in a similar manner as Yelp, to research restaurants and order the most delicious recommended foods on their menus. Don’t know Korean? Trazy’s got you covered, check out our restaurants section.
2. HAVE A SEAT, ANYWHERE!
If it’s open, it’s for you. No need to wait to be seated, open seating is the norm here. Traditional-style restaurants offer floor seating (don’t forget to remove your shoes). When filled to capacity, many restaurants extend to outdoor seating and erect popup canopies.
3. THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL
Surprised that no one has handed you a menu? Read the walls. No really, similar to a cafeteria or coffee shop, oftentimes the menu and prices are painted or posted on the walls.
4. YELL TO ORDER
No one is paying attention to you and you are hungry; what is up with that?! Local restaurants rarely wait on you, rather servers come when requested. Many restaurants have a call button on the table (or cleverly hidden on the table leg, wall or napkin box) but the preferred method of grabbing a server’s attention is to holler out “Jeogiyo!” (저기요! – Excuse me). You’re not assigned a specific server so grab any waitress/waiter when they are passing by.
5. SERVE YOURSELF
- Local Korean restaurants often make you work for your meal. You may have to set your own table, fill your own cups and water, and refill your own side dishes. Finding these things can be a lot of fun.
- If utensils aren’t visible on the table, check for a hidden drawer under the table.
- For water, survey the restaurant for a water purifying machine.
- Napkins may be found in the same utensil drawer under your table, a dispenser glued to the wall or (if outdoors) toilet paper rolls hanging from strings tied to the canopy.
- Don’t worry, you won’t need to get your own food from the kitchen!
6. UNLIMITED FOOD!
Side dishes, called Banchan (반찬), are one of the best parts of Korean restaurants, meant to be shared and offered in unlimited quantities to ensure you’re full and satisfied. Some places serve meals that are almost entirely Banchan, called HanJeongSik (한정식)
7. DO IT YOURSELF DINING
Some Korean foods are brought out as raw ingredients or partially prepared, such as Samgyeopsal, Budae jjigae, and Bibimbap, allowing you to cook your meals to your preference. The server may cut the meat and arrange the pieces, but it’s your job to turn and serve them.
8. CHECK PLEASE!
At the end of the meal, it’s time for more hide and seek. The bill is typically on your table, but can sometimes be hanging on the table leg or a seating divider. At Korean barbecue restaurants they sometimes hide the check on the ventilation tube of the grille. When eating in a group, it’s customary for one person to pay for everyone and each take turns paying for the group on the next outing. No need to tip in Korea!
Korean restaurants often have a boisterous convivial atmosphere, with machines, fans, loud conversations and the TV playing Korean dramas.
Sometimes restaurants will give you “Service,” a Konglish word meaning to give complimentary menu items, such as soups, special side dishes, drinks or desserts as a sign of appreciation for your business.
Local Korean restaurants are often small or attached to a larger complex/outlet system. Usually, you can find a shared bathroom elsewhere in the building when the restaurant does not provide one. When you can’t find the key, just ask for it.