For North American travelers, the differences in European restaurants can be so subtle that you don't even know whether you're going against the norms! During our honeymoon in Germany, we learned some important things about dining in Deutschland that every traveler should know.
- Learn a few food/drink words, numbers, and common phrases in German to order. Many servers speak English but fewer than you might expect if you've been to places like Greece or Mexico. Menus often won't have English translations of the dishes either. Being able to read and speak a few German words will help you navigate these situations. Here are a few just to get you started: Wasser (water), Bier (beer), Wein (wine), Fleisch (meat), Kartoffeln (potatoes).
- You'll have to order what you want to drink, even if it's water. It isn't customary for the server to bring water without being asked, so don't assume you're being ignored or neglected.
- Everything moves slower than in the US, and that's intentional. Germans don't rush mealtime, and, if you want to experience the culture, neither should you. This also means food isn't rushed out of the kitchen, however. Consider finding a restaurant just as you start getting hungry. If you're starving before you order, you're going to be upset about the wait. But don't worry; in Germany, chances are there will be plenty of delicious food coming your way. Just prepare to sit down, take in the restaurant, and let your appetite grow a bit.
- Since meals aren't rushed, customers aren't rushed out the door either. That means you will have to ask for the check. Again, you're server isn't ignoring you, just letting you enjoy the restaurant for as long as you'd like. "Bringen sie die Rechnung, bitte" is the polite way to ask in German.
- Tipping is customary (most sources we read said 5-10% is sufficient). But it's tricky because it isn't customary to leave the tip on your table. Tipping took us an embarrassing amount of time to figure out, and several times we had to leave without giving a tip because we simply didn't know how. Obviously, the easiest way is to pay exact change with tip, but it never works out that way. Suppose you had a meal for two totaling about 30 euro and you only have a 50-euro note. You don't want to tip 67%, so you hand your German-speaking server the 50 and hope they give you smaller notes/coins so you can leave a normal sized tip. But, instead, they give you a 20 euro note and rush off to serve someone else, possibly looking frustrated that their stingy American customer just stiffed them on their tip. Confused? So were we. Here's how it works: you must tell them you'd like to include a tip. In the scenario above, either tell them you're giving them 33 with tip or you'd like 17 in change. If they only speak German, something like "Dreiunddreissig euro mit trinkgeld (33 euro with tip)" will work. Your server will be grateful. You won't feel like a jerk. And everyone will walk away happy.
In general, any time you visit a new country, it's a good idea to research the typical restaurant-going experience in that country. Talk to people who have experienced it. Just don't believe anyone who says to expect "bad service." Dining out in Germany can be a wonderful experience if you know what to expect.