Get us in your inbox

Search
family
Time Out Hong Kong

Dining etiquette: The dos and don'ts of dining in Hong Kong

A guide to Hong Kong's dining etiquette

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
Advertising

With amazing Michelin-starred restaurants and countless local eateries, Hong Kong is a city that takes its food extremely seriously, so it should be no surprise that there comes a long list of dos and don'ts where dining is concerned. With the city slowly re-opening, Hongkongers will no doubt be scrambling to eat the foods they’ve missed the most, whether that’s dining at a cha chaan teng, or tucking into dim sum. Wherever you decide to go, we recommend following these unspoken rules so you can enjoy your meal without getting any stern looks! By Yu An Su

RECOMMENDED: Looking for more tips on how to properly Hong Kong? Check out our beginners guide to tram etiquette.

Restaurant dining and afternoon tea

Understand the seating arrangements
Time Out Hong Kong

Understand the seating arrangements

When at a ceremony or fancy dinner, traditional Chinese hierarchy comes into play with regards to where you sit. The person with the most seniority will typically be seated facing east, or towards the entrance. From there, those with lower positions will seat themselves further away, and the person with the least seniority will sit closest to the kitchen door. Breaking these rules can be seen as disrespectful, so expect some uncomfortable silences if you do.

 Washing your cutlery
Time Out Hong Kong

Washing your cutlery

When you're first seated, you'll be given a big bowl alongside teapots filled with hot water or tea. These are given to you for rinsing your utensils, not for drinking! Give your chopsticks, teacups, bowls, and plates a quick rinse to ensure they're clean. The cleanliness of restaurants has definitely improved, so while this habit isn’t necessarily done for sanitary reasons anymore, it’s still considered good manners, and usually a task done by the children of a family or employees for their boss.

Advertising
Raising your hand to order
Time Out Hong Kong

Raising your hand to order

While maybe considered a little rude in other parts of the world, it’s perfectly normal to wave or raise your hand in Hong Kong to get the attention of your servers. When at yum cha, there will usually be a sheet of paper with food items and tick boxes, write the number of servings you want in the box, and hand the sheet to the server when you’re ready. At Cantonese restaurants, if you’re ever lost, pointing always does the trick!

Mind your tea manners
Time Out Hong Kong

Mind your tea manners

Whoever has the least seniority at the table usually pours the tea, and serves everyone else’s cup before their own, even if other people’s cups are still full. When the pot is empty, take off the lid and rest it on the handle, this signals the server that you need a refill. When getting poured tea, tap the table with three fingers, which is a non-verbal way of thanking someone at the Hong Kong dining table.

Advertising
Watch your chopsticks
Time Out Hong Kong

Watch your chopsticks

There are usually more chopsticks than knives and forks at Cantonese restaurants, so get familiar with the rules. There are two main things you don't do with your chopsticks here: don't point with them and don't stick them upright in a bowl of rice. The latter resembles something done with incense sticks when paying respect to the dead. Also, you'll usually get communal chopsticks that should be used when bringing food from the serving dish to your own bowl – so don't use the ones that you've had in your mouth!

The art of lazy Susans
Time Out Hong Kong

The art of lazy Susans

These circular turntables are commonplace on any banquet-style table as a means of seamlessly transporting food between members of a dining party. The most important rule here is to always check if anyone is taking food from a dish before you try to spin it around to yourself. When it’s your turn to spin, always spin it clockwise, and try to keep the serving dish on the lazy Susan when bringing food to your own bowl, even if that means moving your bowl closer.

Advertising
Paying the bill
Time Out Hong Kong

Paying the bill

Keeping in line with Chinese traditions of seniority and hierarchy, whoever organised or hosted the dinner usually pays. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to pay, or at least debate with the host how to split the bill.

Cha chaan tengs

Know what you want
Time Out Hong Kong

Know what you want

Hong Kong has a transactional culture, and as such, when you set foot in a cha chaan teng during busy hours, you’ll be expected to pretty much already know what you want. Getting your order away quick means turning tables for the restaurant, so definitely don’t take it personally when waiters rush you along!

Sitting with strangers
Time Out Hong Kong

Sitting with strangers

During busy hours, seats will be scarce at your local eatery. As such, staff will try to fit your party on any table that has space, even if that means putting you on an already occupied table with strangers.

Advertising
Paying at the counter
Time Out Hong Kong

Paying at the counter

When taking your order, waiters will write shorthand on a piece of paper, and promptly slide it between the glass atop your table and the table below. When you’re done, simply take the note paper - likely stained with oil or tea by now - and take it to the cashier by the front to pay. Try to have as accurate an amount of change as you can, the staff will appreciate you for it.

Be nice
Time Out Hong Kong

Be nice

Cha chaan teng’s might be notorious for having bad service, but in truth, the staff work extremely long hours, and are stretched thin during peak times. Being as nice as you can with them will go a long way and if you wander in during a quieter time, you’ll find many of them are up for a chat!

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising