Tips for Dining Out in Germany
Knowing Is Half the Battle
Traveling to another country can be exciting and fill you with child-like wonder. But knowing the cultural differences when it comes to something as simple as going out to eat can make your trip exponentially better. As Americans, we've become accustomed to a certain standard of service when dining out. Unfortunately, these standards are not the same everywhere in the world, and Germany is no exception.
1. Finding a Table
Upon arriving at your restaurant of choice, it may be customary in America to stop just inside the front door and wait for a host or hostess to show you to an available table. Unfortunately in Germany, you'll be waiting quite some time if you do this, as being seated by an employee is not a typical practice. German restaurants don't employ a host or hostess to seat you, so it's up to you to find a table to your liking. After you get settled, a server will come around to take your order.
2. Table for Two?
If you've ever been to an American mall during the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, you've seen the people wandering around the food court, holding a tray of food and frantically scanning the room or even hovering over people who look like they may be finishing their meal and abandoning their table. Why? Because your table is "yours". Once you've set your food on the table and plopped your butt in the chair, you've staked your claim to this little island of personal space in a public setting. Well, that's how it works in America.
In Germany, however, if you're sitting in a restaurant and you have four chairs at your table, but there are only two of you, don't be surprised if someone comes along and makes themselves at home at your little island.
Table sharing is very common. Germans don't view your table as an island the same way you do. In their eyes, they need a place to sit, and there are open chairs at your table. Therefore, those chairs are available to anyone who needs them.
This can be a rather uncomfortable situation for some people, but maybe if you view it as an opportunity to mingle with the locals, it won't be so bad. And don't worry, small-talk usually isn't an issue.
3. Service With A Smile
If you've ever worked in the service industry, you've probably heard the saying, "service with a smile." While you're in Germany, it's best to forget this saying even exists.
I'm not saying that servers are outright rude, but compared to typical American standards of service to the general public, it may come across that way. This is why many Germans who are traveling in America are impressed or even shocked by the level of customer service they receive while here. It's just not as important and not something they strive to achieve in their own country.
So, if you forget to smile and make eye contact with your waiter or waitress, just know that they won't even think twice about it.
Along the same lines as the "service with a smile," we also associate tipping with eating out. Many servers in America are paid a significantly lower hourly wage than those with other jobs for one simple reason: they receive tips. Waiters and waitresses must rely on those tips to increase their overall income. The happier the customer, the more likely they will receive a larger tip.
The "norm" for a tip at a restaurant in America is right around 15%, but that can jump to as much as 30% depending on the type of restaurant. Many servers feel offended if the tip from a table is lower than they think the level of their service should dictate.
In Germany, however, over-tipping is seen as an insult, with a maximum acceptable tip being 10%. From their point of view, if you tip more than 10%, you're either insinuating that the owner of the restaurant is not paying their employees enough money, or that the waiter or waitress looks like they are "poor" and are in need of more money.
5. Check Please!
So, you've come to the end of your meal. You may have stood, patiently waiting to be escorted to your table, only to find that nobody even acknowledged you were there. You may have even shared some of your table time with one of the locals. Now that you've left a no-more-than-ten-percent tip, it's time to pay. Many people will automatically reach for their credit card, just like they would at home.
In Germany, cash payments are preferred. Because of the fees involved with processing a credit card payment, unless you have a rather sizable bill, you may get a rather stern look of disapproval for using a credit card. Cash is always their preferred method of payment. Staff may openly and unapologetically laugh at you for using a check of any kind, so don't go that route either
Although to some, these five things may seem trivial, to others, having a better understanding of the German dining culture before traveling can make a trip much less stressful.