Thai Food Etiquette

Dos and Don'ts

While not involving tightly buttoned collars and arcane cutlery, there are a few unique things about Thai table manners that you should be aware of. Most of the manners of Thai eating come from the fact that most Thai meals are taken communally rather than in small groups or couples. That means that you probably don't want to order a steak that you'll devour yourself. Since dining is such a social activity and status matters so much in Thai society many of the rules of etiquette are based on perceived status among the group. Here are some guidelines on eating Thai style, of course if you're in a western style restaurant you can ignore these and many younger Thais have adopted western customs. 

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Do's

  • Do take your time and pick at your food; enjoy the conversation and the laughter and the sense of community.
  • Do pick up the check if it comes to you; in Thai society the person who is perceived to be the richest pays. Nine times out of ten this will be you. On the other hand don't try to contribute if someone else is paying the bill, it takes away from their status and 'face'.
  • Do make sure to take only small portions of each dish so there's enough to go around.
  • Do finish everything on your plate; it lets the host know you enjoyed the meal.
  • Do let the senior ladies of the group do the ordering; it's tradition.
  • Do wait for the host to invite you to dig in.
  • Do expect a wide variety of dishes and flavours; part of the trick to ordering Thai food is to get a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
  • Do serve yourself but only what you can eat in two or three mouthfuls.

Don'ts

  • Don't leave your chopsticks in the bowl, it symbolizes death and is very bad luck.
  • Don't order one dish that you intend to eat by yourself. Thai meals are always shared.
  • Don't feel bad about adding condiments to flavour your food to your taste.
  • Don't wait for all of the food to come out before you eat it, Thai meals are leisurely affairs and the food just keeps on coming.
  • Don't use your fork to put food in your mouth, instead use it to push your food onto your spoon.
  • Don't look around for your knife - you won't need one as everything is cut up for you.
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