Russian Dining Etiquette
Dining etiquette for drinking. The more you drink, the more you will be offered. If you really cannot drink, you'll need a very good excuse, like doctor's orders. Always take some bread after each drink: you'll need it.
Dining etiquette for toasts. Never break eye contact while making a toast, from the moment the glass leaves the table until you place it down again. There can be many toasts throughout a meal; you will be expected to make one in a small group at some point during the meal, especially if you have been toasted personally or are the guest of honor (always try to say a few words in Russian: it is very much appreciated). The most common toast is na zdrovia (to your health).
Dining etiquette for beginning to eat. Do not begin eating until all the guests have received food on their plates and your host invites you to begin; this is usually done by saying, "Pree yat na vah appeteetah".
Dining etiquette for utensils. The knife remains in the right hand, and the fork remains in the left. When the meal is finished, place your fork and knife across the plate horizontally, facing left; this indicates that you are done. If you're unsure of which utensil to use, always start from the outside and work your way in, course by course. The spoon above your plate is usually for dessert.
Dining etiquette for eating bread. Bread is usually served without butter and there usually is no bread plate.
Dining etiquette for your place setting. Your setting will include a small plate for zakurki (if there is only a zakuski plate, you will know that appetizers will make up the meal), a vodka shot glass, a water glass, and a wine glass. The wine in Russia is usually sweet and drunk only with dessert.
Dining etiquette for your hands. Your hands are expected to be visible above the table. Rest your wrists on top of the table.
Dining etiquette for passing food. Pass all dishes at the table to your left.
Dining etiquette for sauce or gravy. If there is gravy or sauce, you can use your bread to soak some of it up. You will be expected to eat all the bread you take throughout the meal: it is considered bad luck, nyetkulturny, and wasteful not to eat all the bread you take.
Dining etiquette for seating. The most honored position is at the head of the table, with the most important guest seated immediately to the right of the host (women to the right of the host, and men to the right of the hostess): if there is a hosting couple, one will be seated at each side of the table.
Dining etiquette for order of service. At meals, the oldest or most honored guest is served first.
Dining etiquette in a restaurant. In informal restaurants, you may be required to share a table: if so, do not force conversation; act as if you are seated at a private table. Waitstaff may be summoned by making eye contact.
Dining etiquette for discussing business. The business lunch or dinner, depending upon how well developed your relationship is with your Russian associates, is generally the time to seal a deal, not to make decisions, negotiate, or get to know each other.
Dining etiquette in the home. Allow the more senior members of your party to enter rooms ahead of you. Do not seat yourself, the seating arrangement is usually predetermined. You might need to remove your shoes before entering a Russian home.
Dining etiquette for paying the bill. Usually the one who does the inviting pays the bill, although the guest is expected to make an effort to pay. Sometimes other circumstances determine the payee (such as rank).
Dining etiquette for tipping. Originally illegal, today the tip (of about 9 to 10 percent) is typically incorporated into the price.