When I was planning my trip to Berlin last month, I had a conversation on Ye Olde Facebook with my friend Heather about restaurants in Germany. I offered a lot of advice regarding how the experience is different from dining in the US, and I realized (not for the first time) that I really ought to post about this. I’ve been meaning to write this one for a long while. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
When you arrive:
Most restaurants in Germany do not have a ‘please wait to be seated’ sign. When you arrive, you are expected to simply sit down at a table of your choosing, although you should avoid any tables that have a ‘Reserviert’ (Reserved) sign. When in doubt, you should ask the staff.
Placing Your Order:
In places accustomed to tourists, it’s not uncommon for a restaurant to have an English menu. Sometimes you’ll be handed the English menu as soon as they hear you speak.
Typically, your drink order is taken first, and then they come back a little while later to take your food order.
During the meal:
In the US, a glass of water is standard in most restaurants. Here, you shouldn’t expect a glass of water with your meal unless you ask for it. When you do ask for water, the waitress might ask you if you want it with or without gas. This is because carbonated water is very common and popular here. If, like me, you prefer not to have carbonation in your water, you can ask for ‘still’ water and it will be given to you “ohne Kohlensaure,” without carbonate.
Don’t expect ice in your drink in most restaurants, either. There are exceptions, but not many- even cola is typically served at room temperature here.
Some restaurants have longer tables where you might find yourself sitting with strangers- I’ve found myself in this situation a few times, and the preferred behavior is to politely ignore the other person. Sometimes you might find a talkative seatmate, but I haven’t found that to be the case.
When you’re finished:
The waiter will not bring you the check until you ask for it. It’s not uncommon for German folk to sit for quite some time after eating, have an espresso, and talk. More than one German traveler I’ve spoken to has expressed that the American habit of putting the check down while they’re still eating feels extremely rushed and rude. In Germany, nobody rushes you out the door.
Cash is king, especially when dining out. Credit cards are usually accepted in major places like hotels, but many restaurants won’t accept credit cards at all. American credit cards are especially problematic in Germany, because the banking systems are different here. If you don’t see credit card logos on the door of the restaurant, assume that you’ll need cash.
When the check is brought to the table, you will often be asked who is paying, if one person is paying, or if the check should be split. It is a common practice to split the check right there and then, and the waiter will give each person a subtotal based on what they ate.
You pay your check at the table, and the wait staff always carries a money pouch to handle the transaction. When the waitress brings you the check, she’ll give you a total. You say how much you’re paying- including the tip- when you hand over your money. For example, if I have a check of 23 euros and want to tip ten percent, I would hand them thirty and say “26 euros” (I usually round up), and they’d give me four back. Don’t leave your tip (Trinkgeld) on the table- that’s typically considered rude. If you want them to keep the entire amount you’ve handed over, you can say ‘stimmt so,’ or, in Bavaria, ‘passt so,’ and this is generally understood to mean keep the change.
Tipping is usually done at 10-15%. Any more and they’ll think you’re nuts. Absurdly generous, but nuts. In the US, people who wait tables have a tiny tiny wage and live or die by their tips, but here, they have a decent living regardless, so if you tip 10%, you’ll seem normal, not stingy.
That’s all the restaurant tips I have for the moment. I may revisit this post in the future.