Home Paul Ebeling Some ‘Do Nots’ When Dining Overseas

Some ‘Do Nots’ When Dining Overseas


When planning for your overseas vacation, take a moment to familiarize yourself with local dining customs so you can blend in with locals and minimize any embarrassment.

Here are the Top dining faux pas in popular destinations to avoid, as follows:

Dining at the Wrong Time

In some countries, like Portugal and Spain, supper does not start until late in the evening. In other destinations, like Southeast Asia, it is hard to get dinner after 9:00p. Identify when locals eat so you are not the only 1 in the restaurant or begging the kitchen staff for a meal when they are trying to close.

Tipping Like an American

The service industry abroad is not the same as it is in the US. Most service staff, especially in Europe, are paid at a higher hourly rate and are not reliant on tips for their livelihood. Consult guide books for typical tipping customs. You will find many places in Europe where tips should range from a few Euros to 10% of the bill.

Speaking Only in English

For the sake of your fellow Americans traveling worldwide, break the stereotype and learn a few words of the language spoken in your destination. Learn “hello” and “thank you” at a minimum. A polite “Do you speak English?” in the native tongue will go far. This helps build a rapport with your server and is the polite thing to do. On the flip side, don’t become overconfident that your high school French will come back with ease. Spare the server a painful exchange if they do speak English; they have a lot of other tables to attend to.

Europe: Waiting for the Check

Meals are meant to be lingered over, digested and enjoyed. You may want to order another dessert, a glass of wine or coffee at the end of your meal. When you are ready to wrap up, ask for the check. It will not appear otherwise.

Europe: Assuming All the Bread and Water Is Free

Be prepared to pay a cover charge for tap water, bread and occasional olives depending upon your destination. This varies depending on country, city and sometimes the restaurant itself. If you do not want bread and are planning to order bottled water, decline it at the beginning of the meal.

Italy: Ordering Coffee With a Meal

In Italy, coffee is consumed after the meal as a way to digest. If you cannot make it to breakfast without a coffee 1st, nip around the corner to one of the plentiful cafes all over Italian cities and have a quick espresso before your meal. In the vein of coffee, cappuccino is typically not consumed past Noon. It is often seen as a meal substitute for breakfast. Plus, there is the old wives tales that combining milk and meat will make you sick. Yes, it does not seem to apply to mozzarella and prosciutto, but somehow does apply to cappuccinos.

Ireland: Keeping Your Hat On

OK, you are just off the golf course and had the best round of your life and are happily thinking about your magnificent shot as you wander into the local pub for a pint with your hat on. It happens. Try to remember to kindly remove your hat when indoors, as this is protocol in the Emerald Isle, and most other civilized places too.

Japan: Piling on the Soy Sauce

Rice is served in separate dishes and meant to be eaten with chopsticks in clumps, not grain by grain. Save the soy sauce for other parts of your meal and do not over-saturate your rice and make it impossible to eat. While you are at it, keep tabs on your dining companion’s glass, as it is the custom to fill up others’ glasses at the table instead of your own.

Enjoy your travels, bon appetite

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