international dining etiquette
Dining etiquette in El Salvador is similar to the rules of dining etiquette in Mexico and Guatemala. The dining etiquette information below presents Salvadorian variations from general dining etiquette of Latin America as found on the Mexican dining etiquette page.
Dining etiquette for seating. Meals take place around a table, with diners seated on chairs.
Before sitting down, it is best to stand at the side of the table and look around for a few seconds with a slight smile. Then someone will signal for you to sit and also will indicate where, most likely by pulling a chair out for you. Sitting down immediately and choosing your own seat indicates a lack of humility. A guest is sometimes seated at the head of the table.
Men and women dine together. However, if you are invited to a Salvadoran's house and his wife cooks, she will serve everyone first and then sit down. Even if there is a maid taking care of the food, chances are the wife will also be assisting and overseeing the entire process. In the end, though, she joins everyone at the table.
Dining etiquette for eating in a restaurant. In restaurants, you will notice that most Salvadorans order their waitress around. Be as nice as possible to your waitress and, while not criticizing your hosts' behavior, do not allow yourself to fall into the same pattern.
Dining etiquette for eating in a home. Unless you are attending a meal served in a household from the privileged sector that observes European-style customs, all food will be served at once, not in courses. There are some buffets but generally only at better hotels and embassy gatherings.
Definitely clean your plate. But take it slow. If they ask if you would like seconds, accept sheepishly with a smile. At least try each dish—your hosts will respect you for trying. If you do not like the taste, just leave the rest.
Dining etiquette for leaving the table. If you leave the table at any point during the meal, before getting up say, "Con permiso, ya vengo." (With your permission, I'll be right back.)
When you finish a meal and need to get up, a simple "Con permiso" will suffice.
Generally, you will be expected to stand when anyone comes to the table, man or woman. It is considered common courtesy to stand and shake that person's hand.
When people leave, you may consider standing again—just follow everyone else's lead.
Dining etiquette for toasts. When proposing a toast, people just raise the glass and say, "Salud!".
Always offer your own toast and say something to the effect that you are pleased to be in El Salvador.
Dining etiquette for beginning a meal. At the beginning of a meal, someone says "Buen provecho!" (Enjoy your food!). This is the most common social toast, and while not said as a toast in the strictest sense of the word, it's a must for anyone eating with Salvadorans.
Dining etiquette for paying the bill. If you are invited to a restaurant, your host will pay. It is considered good form to offer to pay for your part of the meal. You can accomplish this by reaching slowly for your wallet and offering to pay. The host will always refuse. Thank them and put your wallet away. Remember to reciprocate by inviting your host to dinner soon afterward.
Dining etiquette for tipping. Tips are not customary in El Salvador, although they are becoming more common. At most upscale restaurants, the tip will be included in the bill. If you do leave a tip, 10% is appropriate.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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