dining protocol

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 April, 2008, 12:00am


Most sit-down restaurants accept bookings and it is advisable to make them. Some restaurants make you wait even with a reservation, but the wait should be much shorter than when you walk in without one. With speakeasy restaurants, a growing trend in this city, reservations are a must.

Dress code

Most top-end restaurants have a smart-casual dress code, generally meaning no shorts, bare toes or sleeveless shirts for men, and sometimes no jeans. Some restaurants require men to wear jackets. Women get away with more, and wearing a dress will get you in almost everywhere.


You may need to avoid really low-end eateries if you are allergic to monosodium glutamate because most use it to flavour their dishes. You should be safe at hotel restaurants since their kitchen teams are mindful that their guests may have allergies. In any case, warn the staff about your condition before you order - they would not want you to get ill either.


Avoid soups, because almost no tasty soups are completely meat-free (even tom yum is made with chicken stock). Avoid dim sum, because even greens at dim sum restaurants are cooked with pork stock. Avoid food from street hawkers as there may be lard in it. The safest bet is, of course, specialised vegetarian places. Otherwise, talk to the waiters in advance since alternatives can always be found.


As a rule, rich food goes better with rich wine and light food goes better with light wine. When you are in a fancy restaurant, have a conversation with the sommelier. These professionals are trained to guide you to the right wine without making you sound stupid - even when you do. An increasing number of restaurants in this city are allowing you to bring your own wines, so it's worth asking before going so that you can bring along your favourite bottles. The legal drinking age in Hong Kong is 18.

Mobile phones

Certain places ask that you turn off your handset or set it to vibration mode. Well-mannered people should do this in a restaurant anyway.


Since the beginning of the year, smoking has been effectively banned at restaurants, but smokers can still puff away at outdoor tables not sheltered by awnings. Note that some venues have obtained exemptions to the smoking ban until 2009.

Credit cards

Credit cards are widely used, and any restaurant that charges more than HK$100 a person for a meal is likely to accept them, especially Mastercard and Visa. But it's always better to ask.


The 10 per cent service charge in most cases does not go to the waiters, but ends up in the owner's coffers instead. So leave a tip if you really liked the service. Tipping is not required in Hong Kong, but people generally leave the coins.


If you drive and don't want to end up circling the block for a parking space, choose restaurants in malls or hotels. Restaurants in malls often have free parking when the bill exceeds a certain amount. Otherwise, if you are dining at a street-level restaurant, call in advance to find out whether they offer valet parking.