Mistakes Not to Make Eating in a Restaurant in Thailand


When you first arrive in a restaurant in Thailand, you can be forgiven in thinking they’re just like restaurants in the west. In reality, it’s amazing how different restaurant service and etiquette is at many restaurants in Thailand. That’s why, for some tourists coming to Thailand for the first time, there are mistakes they make that cause their dining experience to be worse than it should be. Follow these tips if you’re going to be in Thailand and eating out a lot, and you’ll easily avoid the most common Thailand dining mistakes.

Don’t Expect Western-Standard Service in Thailand’s Restaurants – One mistake westerners in Thailand make is to expect western-standard service. Although Thai waiters and waitresses hover around a lot, the level of service you will get in many Thai restaurants isn’t that spectacular.

Getting what you actually ordered can be a problem (the different English language accents really throw Thai wait staff and don’t even try to correctly pronounce Thai dishes) as, even though they wrote it down, getting it right from the notepad to the table sometimes seems to be a problem.

In years of living in Thailand, I’ve learned just to relax and enjoy the company of the people I’m with and ignore the often poor service. Expecting western-standard service in most Thai restaurants will leave you sorely disappointed but, if you expect it below average, it’s a pleasant surprise when it’s not.

Be Prepared To Order Quickly in Thai Restaurants – When you’re seated in a restaurant in Thailand, the waitress will thrust a massive menu at you then stand waiting for your order. Unlike in the west, where wait staff discreetly walk away then return when you look like you’re ready to order, in Thailand most wait staff seem to think you can peruse a 50 page menu and make a choice in 10 seconds flat. The constant hovering can be annoying.

Of course, you can send them away, telling them you need more time. The problem with that approach though is getting them back can be a problem, so suck it up, scan the menu quickly and order something. You can always hold onto the menu and look for other dishes while the waitress is off organizing your first dish.

Don’t Expect Piping Hot Food – I would guesstimate in 75% of restaurants in Thailand, the food you ordered will arrive lukewarm. Thais prefer warm, not hot, food (the average temperature is 95 degrees here, so
hot food makes Thais hot and uncomfortable) and they think westerners do too.

Particularly at food stalls with already prepared food, it will usually arrive cold. In restaurants, even if they’ve just cooked it, it invariably arrives just a bit tepid. Which is probably why your order takes so long – they need to make it sit until it’s not hot anymore. Don’t complain, just eat it. Sending it back and ordering again won’t make things any better. Believe me.

Don’t Return Food in Thai Restaurants – Most westerners I know, unless it’s completely inedible, never return food in Thai restaurants. (In many years of living in Thailand I’ve only done it three times and, all three times, wish I hadn’t). If you return a dish because it’s too spicy, too cold, the wrong thing, not cooked correctly etc, it will 100% guaranteed arrive back at your table – worse! I once returned a bowl of soup because it was ice cold, only to have it returned to me three times – still ice cold. I finally gave up and just ate it as the five lovely Thai wait staff couldn’t figure out how to use a microwave to get it hot.

Don’t Tip Western-Standard Tips – One big mistake westerners eating out in Thailand’s restaurants make is to tip like they do in the west.. Americans in particular leave gigantic tips (20%) which is looked at strangely in Thailand. Thais rarely tip and, if they do, they’ll just leave the coins left in their change or 20 baht (60 cents) at the most. If you leave a 20% tip, you could find yourself being followed out of the restaurant (which happened to me) by a quite concerned waitress who thinks you’ve mistakenly left your change. Leave the ridiculously high tips for your home country and tip small amounts or not at all in Thailand.

These five quick tips will help make sure you don’t make the usual western mistakes in Thailand’s restaurants. None are hanging offenses, but it will honestly make your trip to the Land of Smiles so much more pleasant if you can follow them, dine the Thai way, and just go with the flow.

Photo – Traditional Thai restaurant – copyright scaredy_cat, Creative Commons License