Are you wondering about German restaurant etiquette? Maybe you are planning a trip to Germany but are unsure about the local “rules” for dining out? No worries – this post will tell you all you need to know!
Trying new foods and experiencing the culture are definitely highlights when travellng. But noone wants to embarrass themselves or stick out as a foreign tourist.
Having lived in both Germany and the US, I know all about the differences between dining out in these two countries.
Read on to learn more about the most important rules for dining out in Germany.
A quick caveat: These “rules” apply to traditional German pubs and restaurants – restaurants in large cities or at popular tourist destinations may be a bit more “Americanized” so do use your own judgment.
German Restaurant Rule # 1: Just grab your own seat
Traditionally, in Germany there is no host at the door, waiting to seat you. You just walk in and choose a table you like that fits your party.
During busier times keep an eye out for small placards placed on the table with the word “Reserviert” on it – this means that someone has a reservation for that table and it is not available.
If all the tables are either taken or reserved, you can always flag down a waiter and ask – sometimes you may use one of the reserved tables if you are there much earlier than they expect the other party.
Or they may offer that you share a table with another party – which brings you on to the next difference between US and German restaurant etiquette:
German Restaurant Rule # 2: Sometimes tables are shared
I have seen this a bit less in recent years but especially in more traditional restaurants or “Biergärten” (German for Beergarden) it is quite common to ask if you can join another party if you see a table with empty seats.
Conversely, if you sit alone (or as a smaller group) at a table and there is still room, it is quite possible that someone will ask to join you if it is a busy place. You can of course decline but it is rather rude. Unless you really need your privacy I would probably agree. After all, it is a great way to meet new people while travelling!
German Restaurant Rule #3: No free water
Hopefully, a waiter will show up fairly soon after you sit down to bring you a menu and take your order. Generally, you will order drinks first (and often use that time to decide on what you want to order from the menu).
Unfortunately, there are generally no free drinks in Germany! Restaurants make the bulk of their profit by selling drinks so they do not take kindly to requests for “free tab water” – they may not even know what you are talking about.
It is best to either order beer, wine, a soft drink, or of course mineral water (most often carbonated). All of them are going to be fairly expensive though!
Not least because of the next difference for restaurant etiquette in Germany:
German Restaurant Rule # 4: No free Refills
This comes as a major shock to many Americans when travelling in Germany – there will be no refills (and the glasses that soft drinks come in can be tiny)!
With many soft drinks there will be a choice between a small or a large drink (the large one generally costs a bit less than two small ones). There normally will be no ice (or just one or two cubes) in your drink so you do get more soda per glass.
But as glasses are just around 7 or 14 ounces respectively even that may not be enough. In my experience, most people need at least a large or two small beverages to last them through an entire meal.
Of course, you could just order a beer – beer is served in bigger glasses – it is Germany after all!
German Restaurant Rule # 5: You may have to flag down the waiter
If you are used to your waiter coming by repeatedly to ask you how everything is, to ask whether you need anything else, or to drop of a refill, German restaurants will require some adjustment!
Once you have your initial drink and your food, there is a good chance you won’t see your waiter again.
They may come by to pick up empty dishes but even that is not always the case (especially if they are busy). Basically, they will just ignore you.
So if you need anything else or want to order more drinks, you will have to flag down the waiter. Ideally, aim for the same one that served you the drink/food, but in a pinch anyone working there will do.
Generally, making eye contact should be enough but you may have to raise your hand a bit/give a small wave or just speak up if they are passing you by (don’t shout across the room though unless you are desperate).
German Restaurant Rule # 6: You WILL have to flag down the waiter to pay
In traditional German restaurants they will NOT bring you the check unasked or even ask if you want to pay. According to German restaurant etiquette this would be quite rude!
They will eventually say something when it gets to closing time I expect but I have never tried this. I get the hint when they start putting chairs up on tables for sweeping.
When you have finished your meal and want to pay you will almost definitely have to let the servers know that you want to pay.
Again, eye contact or a slight wave should do it. In Germany, you pay at the table so a waiter will come by, give you a little slip of paper with your order and the total, and take your payment.
German Restaurant Rule # 7: No Credit Cards accepted
This one is pretty self-explanatory – unless you are eating out in a large city or a tourist center, restaurants don’t accept credit cards. So best bring enough cash or at least check before ordering if you absolutely need to pay by card!
German Restaurant Rule # 8: No need to tip much
Reading the above rules you may have felt that you weren’t getting the service you are used to (yeah, you aren’t).
The good news is you also won’t have to tip much. German menu prices already include the service gratuity so it is sufficient to give a small tip (unless you did require more service/help than would be expected).
Generally, you round up at least to a full Euro or a bit more, depending. For example, I would probably pay 5 if the bill came to 4,7 and 30 if it was 28,70 (I am on the lower side though) but it is really up to you.
What is your experience? Was there something about German restaurant etiquette that surprised you? Let me know if I missed anything!