When I’m traveling to a different country, one thing I inevitably forget to read up on is what to expect in a restaurant. The restaurant experience can be quite different in every country, so I thought it would be useful to compile a list of the cultural differences between the United States and Germany that are specific to restaurant.
- You seat yourself in Germany. This is usually quite unexpected for Americans who are used to having a host or hostess greet them at the door and seat them. However, in Germany, it’s typical just to walk in and seat yourself unless there’s a sign saying otherwise. This goes for sit-down restaurants, cafes, and more casual restaurants.
- There’s no free water. Water is sometimes a difficult cultural difference for Americans in Germany, at least it was for me at the beginning. In fact, I’m pretty sure I spent my first two or three trips there pretty dehydrated. In restaurants, they don’t automatically give you water, and if you order tap water, it may or may not be free (depending on the restaurant). It’s uncommon to order tap water, as well, so you might get some funny looks.
- In general, going out to eat is a much slower experience. I worked at a local restaurant all through high school, and one thing the managers constantly emphasized was that we needed to turn tables faster. That basically means to get customers in and out faster. Because servers make money solely from tips, they make more money the more tables they turn. In Germany, servers are typically paid an hourly wage, so they are not as concerned with getting people in and out faster. In my experience, going out to eat in Germany is a much more leisurely experience than in the US. In the US, I often feel rushed: my food comes out in sometimes in five minutes or less, and the server often hands me the check before I’m even done eating. In Germany, though, you can expect to wait a bit longer for your food.
- Your server won’t come check on you constantly. After they’ve taken your food order, your server will typically check on you just one more time, after you’ve finished eating. They’ll come ask you if it tasted good and they’ll take your plates. If you need something in the meantime, you’ll have to flag them down. The best way to do this is to make eye contact and give a little wave.
- Paying: You’ll also have to flag down your sever when you’re ready to pay, as they don’t come check on you frequently. Again, eye contact and a wave work best. Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s not a given that a restaurant will accept credit cards. It’s always best to have enough cash on hand. When your server does bring the bill, it’s typical to pay him or her right then and there. It’s not customary to leave money or a credit card slip on the table. If you need change, simply tell your server how much you’re giving them, and they’ll give you the appropriate amount of change back.
- Tipping: Tipping in Germany is different than in the US. In more casual restaurants, it’s appropriate just to round up to the next whole euro amount (e.g. €8,25 would round up to €9). I’ve heard it’s considered demeaning to make someone count out small change. When my bill is pretty close to the next euro amount, however, I usually round up and add a euro. In nicer sit-down restaurants, 10% is more common. The typical 15-20% that we tip in the states is too much. In fact, during my first stay in Germany with a study abroad group from my university, one of the fellow students tried to tip around 20%, and our server wouldn’t let him! She said that it was too much and she didn’t feel right accepting it.
Hopefully this will help you feel a bit more prepared for navigating your next restaurant experience in Germany! Have you experienced any other German-American cultural differences in restaurant settings?