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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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in South Korea. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in South Korea and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

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