Dining Etiquette and Customs While Travelling Abroad

It is always good practice to display manners when eating out but that can get a bit trickier when travelling abroad. What may be considered acceptable in your home country may be insulting in another destination.

It is imperative you know the proper way to eat your meals as well as procedures for dining in restaurants abroad so as you don’t offend the locals you are visiting. We have therefore compiled a helpful guide to dining etiquette in various regions around the world to aid you in your travels.

Dining Etiquette in Asia

There are many dining customs you may be unaware of when visiting Asia. For starters, it is considered an insult to point at people with chopsticks and you should refrain from passing food with them. Also try not to leave chopsticks in a bowl or on a plate.

When accepting a drink, be sure to grab with both hands and it is rude to fill your own glass. Instead fill your companion’s glass and wait for them to fill yours in return.

In many Asian countries it is polite to leave a bit left on your plate as a sign you have been pleasantly filled up. Also when it comes to fish, do not flip it as it is considered to bring bad luck to you and the fisherman.

Dining Etiquette in the United States

The U.S. differs from many countries when it comes to dining out etiquette. Although manners can vary depending on the state, there are a few common things to consider. Tipping is the biggest thing to be aware of as servers in the U.S. get paid an extremely low hourly wage and depend on tips.

Servers are also much more personable than you may be used to. It is expected that you acknowledge them and even converse with them. You are usually expected to eat more quickly than you may be used to as restaurants depend on quick turnovers of tables. Many restaurants aim to close early and it is impolite to stay late if you are the only table left in the restaurant.

A clean plate means you enjoyed your meal and is a compliment to the chef.

Dining Etiquette in Europe

Dining customs can vary between European countries but most tend to expect traditional British style manners. You should dress more formal and use the proper cutlery for the food you are eating.

Italians take their cheese seriously so make sure to accept whatever cheese type or amount is placed in a dish without asking for any more and never put cheese on seafood.

In many European countries it is polite to always keep your hands above the table without resting your elbows on the table.

Unless you want to make known you are a tourist, avoid ordering cappuccinos in the afternoon. Espressos are generally the choice for the afternoon whereas your cappuccino is to be had early in the morning.

Dining Etiquette in the Middle East

Middle Eastern countries as well as many countries worldwide consider the left hand as dirty. You should therefore never pass food, eat food, or touch food related items with your left hand.

Alcohol isn’t usually consumed by Middle Eastern countries as it is deemed somewhat taboo. Although you may find tourist areas offering alcoholic beverages, you should generally avoid asking for them out of politeness.

Avoiding alcohol is also a good idea when it comes to making sure your travel insurance policy remains valid. Consuming alcohol could have an effect on claims being accepted or denied. Purchasing online travel insurance is one of your most valuable travel items and therefore you do not want to render your policy void.

Dining Etiquette in South America & Africa

The countries of both these continents vary so much when it comes to eating etiquette that it would be very difficult to follow a general set of guidelines. In more westernised South American countries such as Chile and Argentina, follow more European style customs. Expect evening meals to be social and to be held very late, sometimes after 10pm.

African countries generally have very gracious hosts and meals are a communal event. You may be forced to eat with your hands as many nations forego using cutlery.

Tipping Etiquette

Adding gratuities to meals or “tipping” is an added charge which is given to your server or servers at a restaurant. In many countries like the U.S., servers are on very low salaries where they not only expect tips but their livelihood depends on them. It is customary to leave around 20% of the bill as a tip in the U.S. and heavy tourist destinations around the world.

It can get quite confusing to know when and when not to tip but as a general rule it is never rude to give a tip. Some countries like Japan and China do not expect a tip but you can always round up the bill as a nice gesture. Some restaurants will automatically add on a service charge or gratuity to the bill so ask if you are unsure.

Although it may not be mandatory to leave a tip for meal service, you should avoid eating out if you are not planning on tipping when it is expected you do so. Instead choose accommodation where you can self-cater thereby saving you money on food costs while travelling as well as not being deemed impolite at a restaurant.


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