Customer service in Korea, at least to foreigners, is similar to the way your mom treated you as a child when you got sick. My mom use to treat me as if it were my last day on Earth. She would fix me soup, pour 7Ups, gave me free reign over the TV, and fixed me whatever I felt like for dinner. I never tipped her. Not once.
In Korean restaurants the waitresses work just as hard as my mom. They keep your side dishes full and smile enough to make you want to return to their restaurant. Often I leave the restaurant feeling like I misunderstood the price. It also feels odd not tipping the wait staff after such great service. Tipping however is not part of the culture here, they won’t accept it, they are just doing their job. I don’t have any idea what the wait staff gets paid, but you would think by their service it is more than most.
Restaurants are a dime a dozen in Korea. Korean meals are so big and complicated that most families these days find it easier and cheaper to eat out. So going into the restaurant business can be a successful endeavor if you make good food and employ good people. The reason for such good service seems to be if they can keep you coming back often then they can keep their jobs.
Back home Lindsay and I have eaten at places that leave us $50 poorer after one visit. A cheap meal out at a local Asian restaurant in Asheville was about $30 after tip. In Korea, you get a great meal and great service for $10 per person and you don’t tip! What would easily be a $50 or $60 meal back home comes to $20 here. Even odder is the fact that the waitresses don’t seem to detest your existence, they encourage it. Last week in Jeju one waitress walked our party to a bar we were having trouble finding. She had just gotten off work and didn’t seem to mind that it was about a mile from her restaurant or that she didn’t speak any English.
It is strange at first to not tip, but we have quickly become accustomed to it. One thing I still have trouble with is getting the waitresses attention. Usually they won’t come to your table until you ask. To get their attention you have to yell “YOGI-YO!” This essentially means “HERE!” In some cases people yell “AJUMA” (old married woman….seriously) or “Hermonie” (grandma….seriously) for the waitress depending on her age. Could you imagine yelling “Grandma! A beer please!” Nevertheless, within the minute a waitress will come and take your order with a smile and no extra charge.