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Thailand Dining Etiquette and Table Manners

SKIP AHEAD

Sawaddee krub!  Are you ready for your Thailand trip? If you are making your way to the east ‘Land of Smiles’, except for visiting gleaming temples and gorgeous golden Buddha statues, tasting authentic local Thai food is a highlight you cannot miss. Nevertheless, it may be a little confusing for you when you first time dining out at a Thailand local restaurant. There are some Thailand dining etiquette and table manners that may differ from those in your culture. You should know them before departing and make full preparation for your incredible Thailand gourmet journey. Take it easy! Thai food is delicious and local people are enthusiastic and easy-going. Follow us to learn about these interesting Thai dining manners to enjoy a wonderful cultural exchange.

Thailand Dining
Thai Food

Where to Sit at the Table

Generally, in the west, it is common for ‘the head of the family’ or the most important person to sit at the head of the table. However, contrary to the west, in Thailand the highest-ranking person and the senior people always sit in the middle of the table. It may be a little confusing for you to find where to sit at first. On the one hand, it is recommended that you wait for others to show you your seat rather than choose a place by yourself. On the other hand, if you are arranged to seat on bamboo mats on the ground, please note to avoid showing your feet to anybody on the mats.

If you are dining out alone, especially in a busy restaurant on the street, it is possible to meet someone who asks you to share a table together as the seats in the restaurant are not enough.  This is common in Thailand to dine with strangers. If this happens, do not be nervous and there is no mandatory requirement to talk or interact with the people you don’t know at the table.

How to Order a Meal in Thailand

Thailand meals are generally group meals that you have to share with other people. That means you can order your own dishes but every dish is shared by the rest of the table. You cannot enjoy it only by yourself if you are in a group situation. If you really like the dish, you can order two or more for the table later. According to the traditional Thai custom, the seniors at the table will first order dishes that fit the group. In general, a meal will consist of meat and fish dishes, a sour or spicy soup, some vegetable dishes, a curry, and a big bowl of rice. Sometimes a fruit plate or at least one kind of local dessert will be ordered after a meal.

Local Thai people are always hospitable and enthusiastic, and they may hope you can try some local specialties. However, if you do feel not so comfortable about some ingredients or dishes, just decline them politely and there will be no problem. But if you just choose to leave it on your plate uneaten, it may be considered a little rude.

Thai Food Menu
Thai Food Menu

Table Setting

When eating a Thai meal, generally you will be served a plate, a bowl of rice, and maybe another bowl for various kinds of soups. One point you should notice is that the dishes are not served all at once like in restaurants in some western countries. The Thai dishes are always served when they are done and then they will be continuously brought to the table.

After the dishes are served on the table, you can start to eat. It is recommended to only take small amounts from every dish to allow everybody at the table to try each dish. However, if you really love a particular food, there is no problem for you to refill your plate as many times as you wish till you have tried each dish. Just do not take too much of any dish at a time. The way that Thai food is served makes the biggest surprise of a meal may still come later.

When taking the food from the plates or dipping from the bowls on the table, it is also suggested to take from the edge, which is considered more polite than dipping in the middle. In other Asian countries, it may be necessary to finish all the food on your plate. But it is not so pushed in Thailand. Nevertheless, try not to waste any food. If there is the last bit of food on a communal plate, try not to take it and it is left for the host for politeness.  However, the host may also offer it to you.

Thai Food
Delicious Thai Food

Eating Utensils

In Thailand, people generally eat with a spoon and a fork. Chopsticks are not so common to use for rice-based dishes as you have imagined. Generally, they are only used for eating noodle dishes or Chinese meals. In fact, the spoon is the most commonly used for rice and the fork is used to eat items except for rice, like chunks of fruits or some other desserts. The fork is always held in the left hand, and the spoon is used by the right hand. Not like in western countries, knives are not commonly used on the table in Thailand. In general, food is prepared in bite-sized pieces and if you want to cut food smaller, it can be finished with the edge of the spoon.

In northern provinces of Thailand, some food includes glutinous “sticky” rice can be enjoyed directly by right-hand fingers.

Thai Table Manners

In Thailand, eating is enjoyable but do pay attention to your table manners. For good Thai table etiquette, it is better for you to eat until someone has invited you. Before the food arrives, generally you will be invited by the oldest or the highest-ranked people at the table. And then you can start to help yourself to enjoy food. This is considered a polite and necessary behavior for eating in Thailand.  

As communal eating is normal in Thailand meals, it is also not so common for Thai people to fill their plate full of food. On the contrary, people just take a small amount and then keep taking for several times. To take food from communal plates, it is suggested to use larger spoons to serve yourself rather than the spoon you are eating with.

In Thailand, it is acceptable if you cannot finish all the food on your plate though wasting food is not a good idea. It just means it may not be as serious as in other places and you can stop when you are full. Another Thai table etiquette you should note is that eat as slowly as possible. Thai people love to spend a lot of time eating with friends or family. Don’t eat too quickly or you will miss the chance to talk with people. Just savor the food and enjoy a happy time together. However, that not means you can talk with the food in your mouth, which is regarded as very impolite by local people. Remember to avoid that. Apart from that, try not to rest your chin in your hand while talking to others at the table, as it is also considered disrespectful.

Dining Tipping in Thailand

Like most Asian countries, tipping culture is not so popular in Thailand, especially in some street food stalls, and small restaurants. However, if you really enjoy the meal, it is okay for you to give a small amount of tip to the staff. In high-class restaurants or cafes, it is common to tip 5-10% for a good service.

Who to Pay the Bill

After finishing the meal, it is time to pay the till. When it comes to this matter, it is not necessary to quickly pay the bill or argue over who to pay it. Generally, the host, the oldest person, or the richest one of the group will pay it or the order will be split by the whole group. However, in some circumstances, if Westerners are dining with local people, then the Westerners are expected to pay the bill. Luckily Thai food is not very expensive.

Some Don’ts about Thailand Table Etiquette

  • Don’t talk or laugh if your month is full of food. It is considered very rude when you are eating in Thailand.
  • Don’t slurp soups or noodles. Making noises when eating should be avoided.
  • Don’t rest your elbows on the table or put your chin in your hand.
  • Don’t wipe your nose at the table. If it is necessary, go to the bathroom.
  • Don’t take too much food at once. Just get a small amount and come back for more later.
  • Don’t forget to express thanks to your host and you can say kawp khun khrap/kha (“thank you” male/female) after the meal.

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