Useful Etiquette for Dining in Thailand

Thailand Dining Etiquette

One of the main reasons why tourists flock to Thailand for vacation year after year is to taste the terrific Thai food. If you want to go to the beautiful country for food, we think it is very important to share with you the basic Thai dining etiquette.

In Thailand, you should eat like a Thai. Whatever country you visit, you had better follow appropriate eating etiquette, which can ensure that you show full respect to local culture.

Fortunately, having good table manners in Thailand is not so difficult; the rules of food etiquette are pretty universal and simple. You won't have to worry much about excessive snobbery or strict eating etiquette in Thailand -- mealtimes are often cozy, social affairs with talk and laughter. Relax and enjoy the cultural exchange!

Instead of taking their famous cuisine quite seriously, Thai people are usually easygoing when it comes to eating. But it’s still necessary for you to know about useful etiquette for dining in Thailand.


Thai Food


Where You Should Sit

In western countries, usually the most important person, or "head of the family", sits in the middle of the table. In Thailand, however, senior members of the group will enjoy the privilege.

As Westerners, you may feel a little confused at first, so we suggest you wait until your team members take you to your seat instead of choosing a place by yourself. This will avoid any embarrassing moments later!

If you eat alone in a restaurant or street stall and the restaurant or stall is busy, the staff will usually ask you to sit with others. Don't be panic; In Thailand, it's absolutely normal to eat with people that you don't know.

Thai people are really friendly and hospitable, especially when they find that you are enjoying local food!  If you eat in the countryside of Thailand, you will find that sitting on a mat on the floor is common. In this case, position yourself in a way that you can avoid showing your feet to anyone while they eat.  In Thailand, showing someone your feet is thought to be very rude.


Enjoy Dinner in Thailand


What to Do when Ordering

All group meals in Thailand are shared; do not plan to order your own food. According to local custom, the senior ladies at the table will pick and choose dishes to fit the group. Several types of meat and fish may be represented along with some different vegetables. As a guest, you'll probably be expected to try some local specialties.

However, you may order something you like, but be careful that you will share it with others on the table. Don't order a dish in a collective situation and eat it all by yourself. It won't be very popular with other diners. If you order a dish and like it, you can order another one or two for the table later.

Ordinary Thai food usually consists of rice, sticky or jasmine.  It can be served individually or served in a big bowl in the center of the table. Besides, you will find condiments such as shrimp sauce and chili sauce, fresh herbs and raw crispy vegetables. It is also common to order a fruit plate or at least one Thai dessert after meal, for example the famous and popular mango and glutinous rice.

If you have special dietary restrictions, there is no need to make them heard during the ordering. Just don't reach for dishes you think could be a trouble and politely decline if someone asks you to try something that doesn't fit into your diet.

The Table Setting and Eating Utensils

In Thailand, chopsticks are really only used for noodle dishes. Even when you prefer chopsticks and know the rules for using them better, do not use them for rice-based dishes. Thai people eat with a spoon in the right hand and fork in the left. The spoon is the primary utensil; the fork is only used to play a supporting role. Only items not going with rice (e.g., chunks of fruit) are OK to eat with a fork.

There won't be knives on the table, or anywhere outside of the kitchen for that matter; food has already been cut up into bite-sized pieces. If you need to cut food smaller, use your fork and spoon to tear it apart.

Meals from northern provinces such as Isaan may include glutinous "sticky" rice served in little baskets. Eat sticky rice by compressing with your fingers and use them to pick up food and sauces.

Let’s make it clearer by the following points:

  • Don't ask for chopsticks.
  • Hold the spoon in your right hand and fork in the left.
  • Eat with only the spoon. Don't put the fork into your mouth.
  • Use the fork to push food onto the spoon.
  • Eat sticky rice with your fingers; you should use your right hand.


Thai Dinner Etiquette


You'll be given a plate of white rice and possibly a bowl if any soups are to be served. When food arrives, take only small portions -- no more than two spoonfuls -- of each dish onto your rice. You can refill your plate as many times as you like. Another good reason not to overindulge at the beginning: food probably won't arrive all at once! Dishes will continuously be brought out to the table as they are prepared. Taking too much of any single dish and possibly preventing others from trying it -- is impolite.

There is an array of condiments to flavour the food as well as a container full of napkins on the table. These condiments include fish sauce, dried chilli flakes, chilli vinegar and sugar. Thai people love to season and spice things up. Unlike in upscale Western restaurants or nice sushi establishments, you don't have to worry about adding extra sauces and seasonings to your food.

You can choose either free filtered water by the cup or a bottle of water that you need to pay for.

Table manners

Unlike many western countries, you don't have to eat all the food on your plate (although it's not rude). Eat everything you can and don't stop until you're full. Wasting food is never a good idea, but it's not a big problem in Thailand compared with other places you may go.

Local people eat slowly in Thailand, so it's a good for you to take your time. Dining is a good time for Thai people to enjoy communicating with friends and family. Don't do it in a rush.

Take time to taste every dish and experience traditional family style Thai cuisine. Do not forget to wait for someone to serve you. This job usually belongs to one of the youngest people on your table.

As in most Asian cultures, age and social status are given top priority. The rules of saving face apply at all times. Before you begin shoveling in mouthfuls of food, wait for the highest ranking or most senior person at the table to signal that it's time to eat. If they don't say anything, simply wait for them to begin their meal.

Remember to use the large serving spoon while serving yourself, not the one you are eating with. If you are serving yourself, it is polite to serve the person around you first. Make sure everyone around you is well attended.

When talking to others in the group, it is best not to put your chin on your hands or elbows on the table. This is considered very impolite in Thailand.


Enjoy Dinner in Thailand


Tipping in Thailand

Depending on where you’re eating, the tipping culture in Thailand can be vastly different. If you are to order street food and tell the vendor to keep the change, chances are that they might insist you take it back – even if it’s just five baht. Doing as the locals do is very good advice for any travelers, and you’re unlikely to see a local tipping a street food vendor so don’t worry about it too much. If the food was really that great, order another one or leave a few baht on the side and escape before they have the chance to thrust it back into your palm.

Eating in restaurants or cafes is totally another story. It’s worth keeping in mind that the waiting staff in such places often work long hours with little breaks for less than $10 a day. If you order a snack and a coffee that comes to, for example, 85 baht, then it’s common to simply leave behind the remaining 15 baht change or a 20 baht note, which helps to make a big difference for a young waitress with a family or a university course. If you’re heading to an area for a prolonged amount of time, leaving a tip each time isn’t necessary but can find yourself rewarded with better service and preferential treatment as a regular result.