In last week’s blog we shared this dining tip – to get service in a restaurant in Hong Kong, you need to raise your hand. Our readers found this especially useful, so this week we decided to share six other tips on Hong Kong dining etiquette.
1. Do not eat until your host does
While I was working, I would invite my team out for lunch every couple of months for Yum Cha. When the dim sum arrived at the table, I was usually the first to dig into the food. One day I was very wrapped up in my conversation and didn’t immediately pounce on the food when it arrived. When I looked around, I saw that no one was eating the dim sum. I found this to be a little odd, and told everyone to start, but they wouldn’t until I had a bite. This is because it is considered very impolite to eat before the host does. Being the host, usually comes with the added responsibility of paying the bill, so you may want to keep this Hong Kong dining etiquette tip in mind when you invite people out!
2. One set to serve, one set to eat
If you see two sets of chopsticks at your place setting, no the second pair is not a backup in case you drop the first pair on the floor. Usually the chopsticks will be two different colours – one set is used for serving food, while the other is used for eating. It doesn’t really matter which pair of chop sticks you use to do what, but remember if you are using the white chopsticks for serving, do not start eating from them halfway through the meal. While this may sound easy, it is actually pretty tricky to remember in practice.
3. Wash your own dishes
No you don’t need to get out the back and wash your own plates in the kitchen sink. Cantonese restaurants sometimes have a big empty bowl in the middle of the table which is used to rinse out your bowl, plate, chopsticks and tea cup before you eat. You do this by pouring hot tea on your cutlery and dishes over the big bowl. I was told that this is done to make sure it is clean. But it is a little confusing as it is not done consistently in every restaurant. When I went out with my team for lunch we only seemed to do this in the “cheaper” restaurants, because this is where hygiene standards may have been of concern.
4. Tap the table with two fingers to say m goi
Back in Australia we would always go to Chinese restaurants with one of our Hong Kong born Australian friends. When he was served tea he always tapped the table with his pointer and middle fingers. I incorrectly assumed it meant “you can stop pouring the tea now” and thought it was just one of his little quirks. Then I noticed people in Hong Kong doing this, and found out it is a discreet way to say thank you. This is especially useful to know for when you have your mouth full and can’t say “thank you” or “m goi”.
5. Once you have finished your food – Get Out!
Hong Kong is a very transactional environment. There are lots of people (~7.5 million) and everyone is in a rush to be somewhere. Restaurants are so busy. Space is so limited. Shop rent is so high, and they want to get as many people through the door as they can. It is not uncommon for people to line up for restaurants, so it is important that once you finish your food you leave to make room for the next people. Recently we went to a popular Cantonese restaurant and we were seated across from another couple in a small 4 person booth. We found the experience to be super awkward. Then in true Hong Kong style, our food came, we ate, and we left all in about 20 mins.
Of course there are exceptions to this, for example fine dining, where you can take your time. After all you are paying premium prices so you can take as much time as you like!
6. Pay with two hands
When it is time to pay go up to the counter to save time. When you hand over money or a credit card you need to pay with two hands. Turn the money or card so it is right way up for the person who will be receiving it. And hold the two corners of the card or note (as below). It is considered rude if you don’t do this. The same is true if you are giving someone your business card or a present.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we hope that you have found our tips useful. Do you have any other tips to share about Hong Kong dining etiquette? Please share below in the comments.