The Business Dinner: The Low Down On Russia’s Dining Etiquette And Most Popular Dishes

Ok, so you have found yourself doing business in Russia. Despite having a reputation for less than welcoming weather conditions and a culture that is rarely described as being warm. Come to think of it “warm” isn’t a word you often hear when speaking about Russia period.

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When it comes to dinner however, hospitality is extraordinary. Whether eating in someone’s home or in a restaurant – you can expect to be very well taken care of. There are some differences in how Russians approach the dining experience though, namely in the way hard alcohol makes its way into the mix.

Maybe it’s because of the weather or maybe it has something to do with a long history of political and economic struggle but taking shots of hard alcohol throughout dinner is customary. Pace yourself, and try to eat between each toast (maintaining eye contact is apparently important while toasting). Social pressure is fairly strong, so here’s hoping your stomach and liver are too!

Other basics

  • Knives are typically held in the right hand, and forks in the left.
  • Tip is sometimes included in the bill. 10% is the norm.
  • Take only what you will eat. Wasting food is frowned upon.
  • Elders and respected individuals enter rooms and sit at tables first.
  • Usually the person who lends the invitation to dinner pays, but you should still try and offer to help with the bill.

On a more nuanced level, business dinners tend to be either for celebrating or “sealing the deal”. It isn’t typical for the dinner table to serve as a negotiating table.

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So what can you expect to see on said dining table?

Soups are big in Russia. Don’t worry if borscht isn’t your cup of tea – there are hardier meat based soups and stews like soyinka that are totally worth trying. The Russian variation of dumplings, pelmeni, are delicious and come in a variety of meat fillings. Pirozhki are meat turnovers and make for a great lunch (also very handy to eat on the go – which is not common in Russia FYI). Meat and fish dishes are also very popular, and vary depending on region.

A good phrase to keep an ear out for is “pree yat na vah appeteetah”. It signals that it is time to eat, or rather that guests can now eat the food that is in front of them. If you’re interested in expanding your Russian vocabulary a little more visit our  Enquiry Centre and get some more information on classes and other resources that are being offered. If you already have some Russian language skills try our Online Russian Level Test.