How to Dine Well — and Properly — in Another Country


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Lars Leetaru

When you’re traveling internationally, eating at local restaurants is an opportunity to learn about that country’s culture and customs, says Gert Kopera, the executive vice president of global restaurants for Hakkasan Group, a collection of 41 restaurants worldwide. But, Mr. Kopera said, dining out can also make travelers uncomfortable. “Dining etiquette and traditions vary by country, and if you don’t know the customs in the destination you’re visiting,” he said, “it’s easy to feel like a fish out of water.”

Mr. Kopera has eaten thousands of meals in more than 70 countries, and here, he shares his advice on how to dine out successfully anywhere in the world.

EAT AT THE RIGHT HOUR Learn when locals eat, Mr. Kopera said, so that you’re not going to closed or empty restaurants. In the United States, dinner is usually eaten from 6 to 7 p.m. and is the biggest meal of the day, but not so in other countries: In England, for example, high tea, served around 4 p.m., is a meal itself while supper is lighter and served at 8 p.m. or later. In Spain and South America, the average dinner starts at 10 p.m., and in India, anywhere from 9 to 11 p.m. is the norm. “You’ll experience the authentic local culture if your dining times are in rhythm with the locals,” he said.

USE THE CORRECT UTENSILS, OR NO UTENSILS Using utensils improperly can be a sign of disrespect in another country, Mr. Kopera said. He suggested that travelers observe locals while they eat and follow their practices. In China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, chopsticks are the most common utensil, but sticking them upright in rice is considered offensive. In India and areas of the Middle East and Africa, eating with hands is normal, but be careful about using the left hand — it can be considered unclean.

TAKE YOUR TIME In many countries — including Brazil, France and Italy — meals span several hours and are a time to connect with family and friends. Mr. Kopera suggested that travelers do the same. “Savor the food and conversation,” he said. And, once you are ready to leave, ask for your check because in many international destinations, servers present it to diners only upon request.

RESEARCH PAYMENT AND TIPPING PRACTICES Find out the proper tipping etiquette and way to pay in whatever country you are visiting. Tipping is not expected in many countries, and in some countries like Japan, it can be insulting. Also, in some countries, such as France, splitting the bill is considered to be unsophisticated. And know ahead of time if the restaurant you’re going to accepts credit cards. In parts of Africa and Asia, the only way to pay at many restaurants is to use the local currency, and being cashless can make for an uncomfortable ending to your meal.

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