This post is also available in: Spanish
Panamanian dining etiquette. An article published in the Safari Globe Cultural Information gives an amusing account of Panamanian dining etiquette to guide visiting business people.
“Dining in Panama is a bit different from much of Central America as restaurants tend to be a bit more upscale and dining can be more formal. However, socialization and the company joining you at a meal remain the most important aspects of any meal in Panama. As you arrive for a meal in Panama, being a little late is generally accepted and common; however for business meals, especially with business persons used to working with Americans, be on time. For purely social gatherings, arriving 15 minutes late is common and many locals will be even later.
Once everyone arrives, drinks are often served prior to dinner. This generally begins with a toast of “salud” then followed by drinking and conversation. Drinking is fairly informal and intended to put everyone at ease. Once the food is prepared or your table is ready you’ll be shown a seat so let your host seat you. If you are accompanied by your significant other, you may be seated separately; this encourages greater socialization.
With the arrival of the food, the host will invite everyone to begin eating with the words “buen provecho.” Although the Panamanians are fairly forgiving of foreign dining habits that differ from their own, they do expect you to keep your hands in sight by resting your wrists on the table and, if possible, you should eat in the continental style (fork in the left hand and knife in the right).