Maximizing Savings in Korea Part III: Eating and Drinking Out in Korea

So far, we’ve taken a look at how to make some savings at your local mart and through your mobile carrier and examined ways you can cut down on your heating bill during the winter season, now let’s see how you can eat and drink out without costing you an arm and a leg!

Whether you’ve had a long day and can’t be bothered to cook or if you’re in an unfamiliar neighborhood and trying to find a decent spot to grab a bite, it’s all too easy to find yourself eating out in Korea. With prices generally cheap with no additional service tax (besides the VAT) or tipping required, it’s hard to resist grabbing your bites and drinks out. But without any self-restraint, those little meals and drinks here and there can easily add up to take a big bite out of your budget.

Of course it goes without saying that in almost all cases, you’re better off making and eating your meals at home but here are a few tips on how to get better savings and deals on food and drinks when you’re out and about!

Befriend the Owners and Establish that “Jeong” (정)

Any neighborhood in Korea will have a slew of independently owned, mom-and-pop establishments including restaurants, eateries, cafes, and drinking spots. In the Korean language, there’s a word called “jeong” (정) that describes a special bond of affection/attachment between individuals. It’s a core, mostly unspoken pillar of Korean society which helps forge special relations between individuals even if two individuals are not technically on familiar terms. Though “jeong” is generally more commonly seen in less metropolitan areas these days, if you do establish it the benefits can be quite mutually rewarding.

The next time you swing by your neighborhood kimbap store, café, etc, be friendly and strike up a conversation to try to get to know the owners (so long as it’s not an inopportune time for them). Sure, there may be some language barriers but even if you get to know a few facts about each other, find some common interests, or share a joke or story or two, he or she is likely to remember you the next time you visit. The seeds of jeong you’ve sowed can potentially reap future benefits for you such as a free drink or side, discounts, or even simply a new friend who can help you out in times of need- such as when you need the help of a Korean speaker or someone in your neighborhood you can kindly ask to temporarily hold onto delivery parcels when you’re out of town.

Maximizing Savings in Korea Part III: Eating and Drinking Out in Korea

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It should be noted that jeong describes a genuine, real connection so any fakeness on your part will be seen right through. Do your part in actively establishing a connection and be kind to them too- pick up an extra coffee for them, share some treats you’ve received, and most importantly just be that patron friend who they are just as happy to see walk into their store as you are to see them too. And, as many who have lived in Korea can attest, some of the best new friendships they made in Korea blossomed from such seemingly small connections!

Be on the Lookout for Daily Specials and Seasonal Promotions

Scan restaurant signs and menus for specials or promotions they may currently be offering. For example, some joints may offer a special lunch discount, set meals, a “special of the day”,  and/or be holding promotions for certain menu items.

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Key words to look for on signs and menus include:

  • “행사” or “haeng-sa”- meaning “event” or “promotion”
  • “할인” or “hal-in”- meaning “discount”
  • “세트” or “set”- usually referring to any set menus
  • “스페셜” or “special”- usually used in phrases like “lunch special”

Of course, you can always just ask any worker about any specials or promotions currently being offered.




Eat and Drink for Cheap With Special Weeknight Promotions

Some businesses (and especially many non-Korean bars and lounges) usually offer special promotions on everything from food to drinks on slower weeknights. Whole pizzas, chicken wings, house wines, cocktails, bottled beers are just some of the things you can score on deep discounts and/or freebies (such as 1+1 deals) on a weeknight. To find these sweet deals search for any local or community magazines, blogs, Facebook groups, or websites (such as Chip’s Maps) as they will usually have a master list of businesses and their respective weeknight specials. Some of these spots also offer happy hour promotions too so be on the lookout for those deals as well!

Take Your Meals and Beverages to Go

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Many places offer discounts if you take your meal and/or beverage to go. By taking your order to go, it’s a win-win situation for both as the restaurant cuts down on resources and time in serving you while you get the discounts. If you have a spot you frequent quite often that offers such take-out discounts, get their number and menu and call ahead to make an order so you can simply pick up your discounted meal or drink as soon as you arrive. This tip also comes in handy for any delivery places near where you live if you want to avoid long waits on delivery during peak times such as during lunch or dinner hours.

To ask to have your food or drink ready for take-out, simply tell them, “Pojang heh joo seh yo.” (포장 해주세요).


Ask About Container Discounts

Some establishments offer discounts if you bring your own container or bring back a container you previously received from their business. Examples include bringing your own tumbler to certain cafés or bringing back (clean) serving containers from a side dish (banchan) store. The business cuts down on expenses and you get a bit of saving for your purchase while doing a small part in helping the environment- another win-win situation for both!

Follow Your Favorite Spots Online

If there’s a business (chain or otherwise) that you frequent, chances are it’s making the most of online and mobile platforms to relay both information and promotions to customers. From homepages to social networking services (such as Facebook and Twitter), businesses are actively making their presence online known which, if you’re folloing them online, means you’re likely to be among the first to receive the latest updates on deals and specials from them. Take the simple steps to be in the know with your favorite places by bookmarking their homepages, following and ‘liking’ them on Facebook, as well as any other SNS feeds they may have. A number of commercial establishments, such as Subway or Starbucks, offer regular contests (usually a “like” and comment sort of thing) via their respective Korean Facebook page with winners scoring free meals, gift certificates, vouchers, and/or other neat prizes.

Another avenue that’s sometimes overlooked- KakaoTalk Plus friends which also offers information and deal promotions. Some businesses even allow you to place orders or make reservations via KakaoTalk!

Scan Social Commerce Sites For Deals But Use Them With Precaution

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Though the glory days for most social commerce sites have passed, you can still sometimes score some sweet deals. Sites such as Couponmoa, can make browsing for deals easier by combining all the deals from the various social commerce sites while allowing you to use filters such as by location, neighborhood, cuisine, etc.

Note though that in recent years some businesses that put up these deals have come under fire after evidence and investigations have found some places shortchanging customers such as dishing out smaller portions for coupon users. Also know that for most successful restaurants, there’s very little benefit on their end in putting themselves up on social commerce sites which means that a good portion of the restaurants listed on these deal sites are either relatively new (and looking to drum up recognition and attention) or are restaurants that are in need of better business. So take those factors into consideration!

Check Your Credit Card and Mobile Carrier for Benefits

Depending on your credit card company and card level, there are usually dining benefits that you can take advantage of simply by using their card to pay. Citibank, for example, has a range of discounts and promotions for its card carriers in Korea at a number of restaurants and establishments nation-wide. Same goes for mobile carriers in Korea which partners with many major restaurant chains. Check with your credit card company, bank, and mobile carrier for the full range of benefits and details!


Feel free to share any other tips in eating out in Korea you’ve come across in the comments section below!

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