A survival guide for Czech dining etiquette

Photo: Lesley Weidenbener / freeimages

I have discovered that dining etiquette in Prague is different from that back in the United States. Something that I have noticed since eating out in Prague is the requirement for reservations at restaurants, bars, and even coffee shops. The venue does not have to be a fancy affair to require a call ahead of time; I have made reservations at quite casual restaurants like burger joints and brunch cafes.

Photo: Lesley Weidenbener / freeimages
Back in the States I reserve tables far less often, and can usually walk into casual dining venues and be seated soon after arriving. In the U.S. I usually only consider making a reservation for higher price point formal restaurants. The length of my meals are longer than back home, because they usually include pre-meal and post meal drinks, and often times a soup or appetizer preceding the main course.

I’ve noticed how Czechs enjoy their leisure time, and it doesn’t seem uncommon for tables to be occupied for well over an hour. The slow dining pace is something I’ve come to appreciate about the European culture as a whole. I don’t feel rushed to finish in Prague restaurants because I expect that the restaurant has already taken into account the amount of time I may spend at a table. Back in the States I do not feel the same inclination to continue sitting at a table once I have finished a meal. I have also noticed something quite different about the way Czechs eat meals, specifically in the way they handle food on their plates. I couldn’t put my finger on it for awhile, and it was not until I researched Czech and Slovakian etiquette that I was able to identify that Czechs use their knife and fork simultaneously throughout the meal. This custom seems much more efficient than switching utensils. In the States I primarily use a fork to eat a meal, and often use the side of the fork to push down on food if it needs to be cut. This system requires more strength and has the potential to be quite messy. The Czechs use the knife in their right hand to push food onto the fork in their left hand. Since learning the Czech etiquette I have discovered it to be much easier than what I had grown up with. Waiters can identify if a diner is finished with a meal if their utensils are placed parallel and vertically on the side of the plate, while crossing utensils tells the waiter that the diner is still eating.

Since alcohol accompanies most meals, the custom for toasting has been explained to me as a very important part of Czech culture. In addition to each person at the table saying Na zdraví, each person is expected to clink glasses with every other person at the table, as well as be sure to make direct eye contact with them as their glasses touch. Failure to give direct eye contact can come across as rudeness and disrespect.

Photo: Ivana Vonderková,  Radio Prague International
Although some European cities do not follow suite, tipping the waiter in Prague restaurants is considered quite standard. If the service was good, it is typical to tip ten percent. This is about half of what is considered standard tipping amount in the States. Since American waiters depend almost entirely on their income to come out of tips, the typical tipping amount is fifteen to twenty percent of the bill.

In terms of paying for the bill, the Czech system seems to be much more efficient than what is typical in the United States. In Prague, many restaurants have a simple system that makes it possible for a group to split the check amongst diners. It is common for waiters to ask each person to visit them at the cash register so they may pay for their food individually. In the U.S., a group of diners may develop quite a headache trying to split up the check and come up with exact change. If paying by credit card, the waiter brings a scanner to the table in order to complete the transaction, while in the U.S. a waiter takes the card back with them to the register, and has to return the card and check to be signed to the table.

Since living in Prague, I have come to appreciate the differences in dining culture and etiquette. Since dining out is often more affordable than what I am used to in the United States, I eat out quite often, and have done my best to master the etiquette that comes with the territory.