The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat shrimp with grace. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.


What shrimp etiquette is

Shrimp etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat shrimp. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow shrimp etiquette to serve them to your guests appropriately.

If you are a guest, respect shrimp etiquette rules to properly eat and enjoy it.

What you should know about shrimp

Shrimp are crustaceans. They have 10 legs and look like small lobsters. There are several thousand species.

How To Serve And Eat Shrimp: The Top 6 Etiquette rules

Etiquette rules to serve and eat shrimp

1) How to store shrimp

It is best to eat shrimp right away. Avoid storing them. Do not leave shrimp at room temperature for over 2 hours.

You can store fresh shrimp in your fridge for 1 or 2 days. 

Alternatively, you can store fresh shrimp in the freezer. They can last for up to 3-6 months.

2) How to clean shrimp

If you serve shrimp whole, rinse them under running water before cooking them. 

Otherwise, after rinsing them, remove their head, legs, and shell with your hands. You can either leave or remove the fins at the end of the tail. You should remove the intestinal tract, which is the dark vein that runs along the shrimp tail.

3) How to cook shrimp

There are several ways to cook shrimp. Boil, steam, fry, or grill. You can use shrimp in recipes such as salads or pasta.

Cook shrimp thoroughly to avoid food poisoning.

Shrimp are among the most common food allergens. They are not kosher, thus they are one of the Jewish dietary restrictions. Before you include shrimp on your menu, ask your guests if they have any restrictions.

4) How to serve & present shrimp

Serve shrimp cleaned or intact. Cleaned shrimp should be without a head, legs, shell, and intestinal tract.

If you serve shrimp intact, you can provide your guests with an additional small plate to discard the head, legs, shell, and tail. Provide a small bowl of water and lemon to wash the fingers. 

5) Foods and beverages to pair shrimp with

Shrimp go well with steamed, boiled, or roasted vegetables. Asparagus, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, or broccoli. They match well with fresh salads and avocados.

Shrimp are a perfect ingredient for grain-based recipes. Pasta, couscous, or rice. Pesto and tomato sauces, garlic, or lemon-flavored sauces.

You can match shrimp with some other seafood, such as calamari. Avoid pairing shrimp with meat or other fish. 

Pair shrimp with white wine. Chablis, Soave Classico, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling. Rosé wines can be a good match too. Do not pair shrimp with red wine.

6) How to eat shrimp

Eating shrimp with your hands

If shrimp are served intact, you can eat them with your fingers

First, remove the head and the tail with a sharp pull. Remove the shell by starting from the belly, where the legs meet the body. Press your thumb right above the legs to crack the shell. Remove the legs. Then peel the shell off. If you need to loosen up the shell, gently bend the shrimp against its curve. 

Some people prefer to remove the black vein from the back of the shrimp too. The vein is the intestinal tract and it is edible. Removing it can get messy and close to precision surgery. So, if the thin black thread does not bother you, you can leave it and eat it. 

If shrimp are served headless but with their tail, use the tail to handle the shrimp and bring it to your mouth. Then discard the tail. 

Eating shrimp with your fork and knife

On formal occasions, or if shrimp are in a saucy or oily course, you should eat them with a fork and knife

Hold the body with the fork and remove the head and the tail with a sharp cut of your knife. Hold the body with the knife, and gently stick the tips of your fork right above where the legs meet the body to hold the shrimp. Gently stick the tip of your knife in the opening of the shell where the tail was. Remove the shell by gently working your way with the knife up. 

Place the heads, legs, shells, and tails in a spare plate or bowl. If the spare plate or bowl is not available, place them orderly on a side of your plate. Clean your fingers in a fingerbowl, which is usually available, with water and drops of lemon juice.

On formal occasions, do not suck the juice from the heads. In informal venues, this may be allowed.

shrimp etiquette mistakes

Shrimp etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst shrimp etiquette mistakes. 

  • 9/10. Serving spoiled shrimp.
  • 7/10. Pairing shrimp with meat
  • 6/10. Pairing shrimp with red wine.
  • 6/10. Making a mess eating shrimp.

Additional information for properly serving shrimp

How many calories per serving?

Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.

Shrimp contain around 99 calories per 100 grams. The calories per serving vary based on the dimension of the shrimps.

How to buy the best shrimp

A crucial factor in shrimp etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.

Season and availability 

The season for shrimp depends on the variety of shrimp, the habitat, and the region. In general, shrimp are available all year round.

Choose the best

Fresh shrimp are firm and have a delicate smell. Avoid shrimp that look musky, have dark spots, or smell bad.

Alternatives to shrimp

The best substitutes for shrimp are scampi or prawns.


Which part of the shrimp is edible? You can eat every part of the shrimp, but the head and the legs. The shell, tail, and black vein are edible but usually discarded. 

What part of a shrimp can’t you eat? The head and the legs.

Can you eat shrimp raw? Yes, but it is not recommended. Shrimp have a high risk of bacterial growth.

Do you eat shrimp heads? No. It is best to discard it.

What is the black vein in shrimp? It’s the intestinal tract. It is perfectly edible. 

What is the difference between shrimp and prawns? Shrimps and prawns are similar. They are two different suborders of decapod crustaceans. The two terms, and the animals they refer to, are often confused. In general, in restaurant menus, “shrimp” refers to smaller crustaceans, “prawn” to larger ones.