Successful Entertaining in South Korea

A great deal of important business relationship building takes place in the bars and restaurants of South Korea.

If invited out for dinner, it is advisable to accept as these are often the occasions where your South Korean contacts will really decide if you are a trustworthy honourable person — and consequently whether or not they wish to do business with you.

It is customary for the host to order the food, which all arrives at the same time. Korean food can be extremely spicy but milder dishes are also available. Wait until the host invites you to start. Do not leave chopsticks sticking into the rice bowl – place them by the side of your place setting on the chopstick rests when not in use. When passing food items around the table, use only the right hand as this is considered to be much more polite.

Korea has one of the highest per capita alcohol consumption rates in the world – so many business dinners are accompanied by some fairly heavy drinking. You do not, of course, have to drink a lot if you don’t want to but the Koreans will enjoy your company all the more if you join in with the general atmosphere of revelry. (It is not unusual to move on from the restaurant to a Karaoke bar where more drinking will take place and you will probably be asked to sing.)

Tipping is not customary in South Korea although many restaurants add a service charge to the bill.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in South Korea

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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In little over half a century (since the end of Korean War), South Korea has managed to transform itself from a deeply impoverished nation to one of the world’s leading economies. It achieved this whilst at the same time restricting Direct Foreign Investment (FDI) and with a strongly interventionist government which dictated policy and goal-setting to local industry. Over the same period, it moved from being a follower of product development to a global leader of innovation. And this has massively improved the overall affluence of its citizens.

How did South Korea succeed where so many other countries have tried and failed? What does South Korea have which other countries lack? In a word, the answer is culture. South Korea is steeped in key Confucian attitudes which have enabled this economic miracle to occur. Confucianism extols the virtues of education; South Korea’s approach to education is universally lauded and endlessly studied. Confucianism places emphasis on frugality and loyalty; hard work and acceptance of temporary hardship, bringing their own rewards over time.

If you are thinking of doing business in South Korea (and you really should be), then one of the key elements of successful engagement with South Korean counterparts and potential partners must be linked to gaining a better understanding of South Korean business culture. If you don’t understand how companies are structured locally, how do you know who you should be speaking to? If you are not aware that South Korea is group-oriented in its approach, how can you understand the local decision-making process?

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of South Korean business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips