German Dining Etiquette – What You Need To Know

Eating out in Europe is always a slightly different experience depending on which country you visit, and while many things are similar to the US, Canada and the rest of the world, there are some important differences.

To make sure you don’t have a bad and confusing experience, and that you act with good etiquette when eating out in Germany, follow this guide…

Getting A Table

When you stop to eat at a restaurant, you will most likely be seating yourself – if you choose a table larger than you need, you may be joined by other diners.

This is not bad etiquette in Germany, and often there are a few long tables rather than many small ones, especially in beer gardens.

If this does happen, take the opportunity to meet new people – it could be a lot of fun.

Smoking and non-smoking sections exist at some restaurants, but most restaurants don’t have specific “non-smoking” sections and second-hand smoke is somewhat tolerated, so complaining about it won’t help much.

When looking for seating for your group, remember that some tables are reserved for specific regulars – these will likely have a “Stammtisch” sign in plain view – if there are no other tables, ask the waiter/waitress if it would be okay to sit there.

Complimentary Goodies

It is not customary to serve bread/rolls before a meal without charge, that is sometimes added to the bill as a separate “cover charge”.

Even water carries a charge at most restaurants in Germany. If you order water you will have to pay for it as any other drink, and you will never get tap water (asking for tap water is sometimes even seen as rude).

Germans generally don’t drink tap water even though it’s usually safe to do so.

Service is a bit slower than in the U.S., so you might be tempted to opt for the water and bread and rolls to hold you over until your first course arrives.

In many restaurants, even in fast food places like McDonalds, you will be asked to pay extra for ketchup and mayonnaise.

And, if you are at a familiar fast food venue, don’t expect the same taste or serving size you are accustomed to in the US.

The Tipping Custom

Tipping in Germany is totally different from the United States – first of all, Service and VAT are included in the menu price in restaurants, cafes, bars etc – however, it is customary to tip the waiter.

In Germany waiters and waitresses are normally paid more so the tip tends to be much smaller.

A rule of thumb is to add 5 to 10 percent of the bill, and it should be rounded up to the nearest Euro.

For example, if the waiter says “€7,50, you can hand him a 10 Euro note and say “9 Euros”, and will get €1 back in change.

You don’t leave the money and the tip on the table when leaving the restaurant, but it expected to pay when the waiter comes up to your table with the check and tells you the price.

When deciding how to tip for services at restaurants and night clubs in Germany, you should also consider how many people were served and how good the service was just as you do in the U.S.

Cash, Credit Card or Check?

In Germany, cash is king – checks are very rarely accepted and credit cards are not the norm. Germans use either cash or electronic cash cards (EC), so be prepared before visiting a store or restaurant.

If you don’t have cash, ask in advance if another form of payment will be accepted – it sometimes is.

It’s very common to split the bill (especially among younger people), and the waiter usually asks if you prefer to pay together (“Zusammen?” in German).

If you pay separate the waiter will tell you how much you pay each, and you round up your own bill just the same.

Table manners and restaurant etiquette are a little different everywhere you go, but embrace the differences and you will have more fun and make more friends when you venture out to a new world.

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16 Responses to German Dining Etiquette – What You Need To Know

  1. Dani April 2, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    Great observations – couldn’t have explained the dining etiquette of my home country any better :D I forgot about having to pay for ketchup at McDonald’s, isn’t that weird?! Haven’t come across that anywhere else in the world. And now that I’ve been to so many countries that serve free water I get grumpy that I have to pay for the water in restaurants when I’m in Germany.

    • Chaoskitty April 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      Interesting article, but there is one mistake. The laws have changed about the smoking in restaurants. In some Bundesländern it’s now common to forbid smoking in public places. So you have to go outside to smoke. Exceptions are the so called Raucher-Lokale, which means Smoker-Restaurant. Would be good to add this, sometimes reactions can be harsh if you try to smoke in a restaurant.

      • Sofia - As We Travel Blog April 6, 2012 at 10:00 am #

        Thanks for letting us know! We did experience some people smoking in local restaurants down here in Bavarian villages, but maybe they’re not as strict with the rules in small local places.

    • Sofia - As We Travel Blog April 6, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      Haha yeah the ketchup charges are a bit annoying, I have to say ;) Glad you feel that we explained the etiquettes correctly, it’s always fascinating to notice the small differences between countries.

  2. Siddhartha Joshi April 3, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    This is surely interesting, especially the tipping bit…

    • Sofia - As We Travel Blog April 3, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      thanks for the comment and glad you found the post interesting :)

  3. Caitlin Castina April 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this.  I am traveling to Germany in about 6 weeks, and I have been trying to do research on the different countries I am going to as far as etiquette.  I will be studying abroad in Copenhagen Denmark for 6 weeks.  I just met two girls from Germany who warned me about ordering drinks, especially “water”.

    • Sofia - As We Travel Blog April 6, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      Hi Caitlin,

      Glad you found the article useful, it’s always good to look into the customs of every place you visit, even in Europe they can differ quite a bit.

      Copenhagen is an awesome city (especially in spring and summer!), hope you have a great time over there!

  4. Awlp267 April 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Well researched article! (I’m German, living near Cologne). If you are about to travel to Germany and have any questions, just tweet: peewee_AW :-)

    • Sofia - As We Travel Blog April 6, 2012 at 10:13 am #

      Thanks, will make sure to contact you if we have any questions!

  5. Adam Dudley April 8, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    We lived in Berlin for three months last summer.

    It took us at least one month of eating out to get used to — and not feel bad about — tipping our servers only 5 to 10%. It just felt wrong on every level for two Americans that are accustomed to tipping 18 to 20% minimum.

    One time when we did tip our server 20% at our favorite neighborhood pizza place in Charlottenburg (Trattoria Fra Diavolo)…the look on his face was priceless. It was like he had just won the lottery.

    Something else that really freaked us out was that you have to tip the server while he or she is standing over you giving you change. We had frequent bouts of what we called “tip anxiety” and “tip guilt” in this situation. You kinda feel like a deer in the headlights…especially if you didn’t think the service was so spectacular. 

    Additionally, we found that our servers typically expressed an attitude of apathy about receiving a tip. It was like they truly didn’t care whether or not you tipped them. That’s not to fault them for it because that’s just my American perception…and…I think it may just be a cultural attitudinal difference.

  6. northierthanthou June 15, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Interesting to read this. I remember when 10% was the rule here. Wonder if it will raise there as well.

  7. karin June 21, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    German myself I have to add: No loud speaking in restaurants in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, please. Usually many Americans tend to speak louder than the Europeans and for us it is quite annoying. And one more addition: The amount of tip depends – if you liked the restaurant service you give more and if you didn’t liked it you give less or even nothing.
    And now: Guten Appetit!

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