4. Taking Their Sweet Time
In the United States and Canada, restaurants are rated not only on the quality of their food but also on the speed and quality of their service. This is a crucial aspect of a dining experience. After all, tips are expected when dining out in these countries. In Southeast Asia, this is not the norm. When you dine out at midrange eateries, and in some cases, even in upscale restaurants, expect to wait longer than you’re used to. This typically happens when the restaurant is full or if there are very few diners.
Don’t expect for servers to apologize or explain why it’s taking so long. It’s also quite rare to see local patrons complaining. It is normal to wait a long time for meals in Southeast Asia. Oftentimes, the kitchen does not have enough staff or there is no real sense of urgency to bring the food to the table. This is particularly true in Bali where beautifully ornamented restaurants are found everywhere.
Waiting for a long time for your meal should never be taken personally as this is just a reflection of the pace of life in the region. Plus, it’s really not that bad given that most of the time, the food is great but cheap, and you’re not expected to tip anyone!
5. First Come, First Served
Okay so you decided to dine with a group – friends or family, and you make your orders. After a while, the server comes back to your table, bringing with him just one dish for one person. The rest of you will be looking awkwardly at this one person who was served his meal. This person in turn, will not know what to do with the food in front of him. This situation is not a dining/serving taboo in Southeast Asia, instead it is actually the standard procedure. Restaurants normally don’t serve the orders for a dining group all at the same time. If one dish is done, they whisk it right away to the table because this manner is deemed more efficient.
There are two ways of dealing with that lone dish served on the table. The first is to wait for everyone to get their meal and then eat together, (like you are most likely always used to). This is after all the polite thing to do. But you will run the risk of waiting for a long time for the other meals to come. In this case, the first dish will be cold by the time the other dishes arrive. The second way is the Southeast Asian way. Let the person who was served first eat his meal. In the Philippines, making that person wait for the other meals is considered almost rude because you’re preventing that person to eat what is rightfully his. He is the lucky one so let him enjoy it.
This dining norm may be awkward, but trust us, you will get used to it soon enough!