12 restaurant customs you should know in germany

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Every country has different customs and traditions when it comes to eating in a restaurant. Coming from America, I was in for full-blown shock the first few times I ate at restaurants here in Germany. The culture around “going out to eat” is much different, therefore the experience itself is different. If you plan to visit or to stay in Germany, it will make your life much easier to know a few things about the German culture around restaurant dining!

restaurant étiquette

Cash, cash, cash! In bigger cities, you shouldn’t run into this issue, but in smaller cities and villages, always make sure you have enough cash on you to cover the cost of your meal. I know it is 2019, but many restaurants do not have card machines, and do not accept card payment! If you are low on cash, ask the hostess before you sit down if they accept card or not!

Sit where you like. Some (NOT all) places have open seating policies. If there is open, outdoor seating in front of the restaurant, you can take any free table and a server will come to you. When it comes to indoor seating, make sure to check in with the host/hostess first!

Efficiency in ordering is key! It is not required, but it is common to place your order for drinks at the same time you order your food. Why wait for your server to come around again 20 minutes later? Knock it out in one go if you can!

Don’t expect to see your server too often. With many places, after they take your order and bring your food, they will only come to you when you signal them to come! The idea is that you are there to enjoy a meal, and to enjoy spending time with the people you came with. This time should not be interrupted, and they will never bring you your bill before you ask. (unless the table was already reserved for a customer for a later time and they need you to hurry up lol, but this is not common)

Eat your French Fries with a fork. This one really threw me for a loop when I first got here, but even the kids do it! It is seen as unsanitary/impolite/I’m-not-too-sure-why to eat your fries with your fingers in a restaurant!

Hands on the table! Apparently, Americans put our hands under the table while eating a lot. In Germany, this is like the equivalent of putting your elbows on the table! It is seen as impolite to some people!

Keep your voice down. The table next to you shouldn’t hear every detail of your conversation. This goes for restaurants, public transport, or pretty much any scenario in Germany. If you are a really loud talker, you will get (many) glares!

No free refills. Sorry to break it to you, but I can’t remember my last “free refill”. Not a thing here! If you order another Coke, you will be paying for 2 Cokes! Also, don’t bring your own drink into a restaurant! You will be asked to put it away or toss it.

On that note, you will have to pay for water. For the love of God, don’t ask your server for “tap water” because you think it will be free. This is not a thing in Germany, and your server will be so confused and probably a little offended. If you would like to have still water (instead of sparkling), just ask for “Stilles Wasser” or “Wasser ohne Gas”.

“Can we sit together?” Uh oh, the dreaded communal tables. Except, any table with free seats is fair game in some places. Don’t be surprised if you’re 2 people sitting at a table for 4 and another couple asks to join you. In my experience, no one interrupts the other, and everyone just pretends they’re not sitting at the same table. But this can definitely happen, and I would imagine it’s impolite to say “no” if the seats are free.

Include the tip in what you pay, do not leave the tip on the table! When you get your server to come so that you can pay, they will tell you your total is $47.03 (for example). When you hand them cash OR your card, you MUST include the tip right then and there. So you would respond with “$50” and they would know that it includes their tip. In America, you can add the tip to the receipt after they swipe your card, this Is not an option here!

Tipping. Americans somehow got the notion that people in Europe “don’t tip”, or at least this is what I’ve heard from some people. Or they’re on the other end of the spectrum, and they tip way more than is necessary. I still don’t fully understand this system, and I almost always still need help, so don’t feel bad! It is essentially a game of rounding up. If your bill is $9, pay $10. If your bill is $47, pay $50. In my opinion its always better to “over tip” than “under tip”, but also remember that servers here make a normal hourly wage and not the insane low wages they make in the US.

BONUS -

Here are some good words to know in case there is no English menu, or you want to try your best to order in German:

the menu

Vorspeise - Appetizers

Nachspeisen - Desserts

Salate - Salads

Getränke - Drinks

Essen - Food

Gemüse - Vegetables

Schwein - Pig/pork

Kalb - Calf meat

Rindfleisch - Beef

Hähnchen - Chicken

Ente - Duck

Leber - Liver

Kartoffel - Potato

Pommes - French fries

Käse - Cheese