Manners maketh man, but sadly, dining etiquette isn’t a compulsory component in most schools. We run through the basics of eating out in Singapore with its myriad of cuisines and settings, whether it’s a glitzy Italian joint or your favourite kopitiam.
1. Wait for everyone to be served.
Eating out is a communal thing, so it’s rude if you start without everyone at the same time. If it’s a small group of two to four people, definitely wait. In a bigger setting, like a business meal, hold off munching too, unless the host asks you to start. The best part is that this can be applied in any situation, whether you’re at a fancy French restaurant or at a zichar coffeeshop.
2. Don’t grab the wrong plate / drink
How many of us have ended up with someone else’s drink, or shuffling plates around because someone took somebody else’s while at formal Western sittings? Here’s an easy way to remember where yours are: have both your index fingers meet the thumbs on each hand, and you’ll get a ‘b’ and ‘d’. ‘B’ for bread plate, ‘d’ for drink.
3. The Lazy Susan turns in one direction only
There’s no back and forth with this rotating table at family-style dinners. The first dish should face the most senior at the table, and it spins in the clockwise direction. It’s not polite when your arms cross another’s to get to the food, so wait till the dish is in front of you.
4. Handling the soup spoon
When drinking Western soups, scoop from inside to out, and bring the spoon to your mouth (not the other way around). For Chinese soups, scoop in the reverse direction.
Use serving spoons for sharing plates. It’s 2018, so let’s keep our hygiene standards up.
Show respect for cultures and customs
Make sure to leave your chopsticks across the bowl or on a rest if you’re not using them — sticking them upright in your rice bowl is a big taboo because it looks like joss sticks for the dead. If you’re eating fish, don’t flip it over after you’re down with the top half, as it is said to symbolise a fisherman’s boat being overturned, and thus bad luck. And if you’re dining with Muslims, do not pass food with your left hand.
Throw your bones and other unwanted organic matter on the plate, not the table. Just because you’ve seen 10,000 uncles do it at hawker centres doesn’t mean it’s okay.
Respect the chope
Love it or hate it, the ubiquitous tissue paper at hawker centres signifying a table is reserved is here to stay. Sure, it’s annoying, and not an efficient use of space (since said diner is still queuing up for food somewhere) — but don’t be that guy who upsets the balance of things.
If you’d rather not get into a fight, why not make your reservations on this version of Chope instead?