As the international community turns its attention to the Summer Olympics in London, it’s exciting to see and learn more about different cultures across the world. Since our specialty at Restaurant.com is dining, The Dish has decided to bring you a cursory glance at some dining customs from around the world.
Each specific geographic area has its own dining customs, but if we covered all of them, you’d be reading for hours! So, these tips are very general and cover large areas of the world. We encourage you to do further research if you plan to visit specific areas to learn more about dining traditions in that culture.
Africa: The diversity of the African continent makes it challenging to provide standardized guidelines across all areas. One thing that is almost a sure bet is that your hosts will be extremely gracious and take pleasure in eating. The biggest meal often occurs in the middle of the afternoon, with dinner not being served until 9 or 10 p.m.. In many countries, there will be no utensils offered, and you will be expected to eat with your hands. In Muslim countries, it is considered improper to eat with your left hand. A service charge of around 12% is commonly added to the bills, but otherwise a 10% to 15% tip is considered fair for good service.
Asia: The most crucial factor when dining in Asian countries: Use chopsticks, no matter where you go! If, like me, you are not the most proficient with these instruments, try practicing for a couple weeks before you visit this great continent. Use the small end of the chopstick as your eating utensil, while using the larger end to share food with others at the table. If the intricate movements are challenging for you, try using the chopsticks as a scoop. And when you’re not using them, rest them on your plate or on a chopstick rest. A 10% service charge is often added to your bill, but that typically goes straight to the owner, so tip an additional 5 to 8% to thank the staff for good service.
Australia: Keeping with their laid back culture, expect servers in Australia to be very casual, even in expensive dining establishments. Tipping has not been customary in Australia, and recently has only been done in upscale restaurants. It you want to be safe, 10% gratuity would be sufficient in almost any establishment. It’s important to note that in Australia “tip” is not used to reference gratuity, instead that term is the name for a garbage dump. So a phrase like “I’m going to leave a nice tip” might be one to avoid down under!
Europe: European dining is generally similar to the United States, with a few exceptions: Europeans eat in continental style, with your fork in your left hand and a knife in your right, at all times. It is considered improper to rest your elbows on the table, tilt your chair back on two legs, and to have your hands below the table. A service charge is frequently added to the end of the bill, which is an indication that you do not need to tip, but without it consider adding 10% gratuity throughout the continent.
Latin America: Late, long lunches are common throughout the region. Dinner is considered a social event, and like in Africa it usually does not occur until much later than we are used to in the U.S. — sometimes not until 10 or 11pm. Pass food and drinks with your right hand, and try to keep your hands above the table while you are dining. A 10% tip is pretty much the norm throughout the Latin American region, and you should give it directly to your server, as leaving the money on the table may cause confusion.
Middle East: In the Middle East, dining hosts are very hospitable, and your meals will often start much later than you are used to. Those eating in the Middle East may be expected to take several helpings, so don’t load up too much on your first plate! During the month of Ramadan, Muslims eat only two meals: Sohour, which is a light meal that occurs just before the sun rises, and the heavier Iftar, which is served after sundown. As mentioned above, make sure to avoid eating with your left hand in Muslim countries. While alcohol is becoming more common in the region, Muslims do not drink, so ordering alcohol in restaurants is not the norm. Even when alcohol offered, make sure to keep your consumption restrained, as drunkenness is considered especially crude in the Middle East. In Israel, Kosher meals are the standard to keep with religious practices, and restaurants will close near 2pm on Friday for the Shabbat (or Sabbath), and not reopen until sundown on Saturday night. Tipping rates are quite a bit lower throughout the Middle East than we are used to, but at least 8% should be given to a good server.