Meals and Manners, Eating Habits in Germany

So i(s)st man in Deutschland

Whether eating at a restaurant or with a family, here’s a brief guide as to what to expect and how to behave when eating in Germany. Typical German foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are detailed, along with some general observations about how food is purchased, served and eaten.

Breakfast (Frühstück)

German breakfastA typical breakfast in Germany consists of a warm beverage such as coffee, tea or cocoa, bread (Brot) or bread rolls (Brötchen) with various spreads and toppings such as Butter (butter) or Margarine (margarine), Marmelade (marmalade or other jam), Honig (honey), Quark (a type of curd cheese), Wurst (sausage) and Käse (cheese). A glass of juice (Saft) is also commonplace, as is a boiled egg (Ei). Cereals are also popular, particularly among younger people. Müsli, which is a mixture of cereal flakes, nuts and dried fruit and other ingredients is also very popular. It is mixed with Joghurt (yogurt) or Milch (milk) and often topped with fresh fruit (Obst).

With today’s busy lifestyles there is a growing trend towards eating a more simple breakfast, so you are more likely to see young people eating cereal rather than tucking into a more hearty meal of bread, cheese and sausage. However, the traditional breakfast of fresh breads accompanied by a cheese or meat selection is still alive and well, particularly on the weekend when the family has more time. With a bakery (Bäckerei) on every street corner, it’s customary to buy freshly baked rolls on Saturday and Sunday for the whole family to enjoy over a leisurely breakfast. On weekends, some Germans also like to cook eggs, whether hartgekochtes Ei (hard-boiled egg), Spiegelei (fried egg) or Rührei (scrambled egg).

Grosse Pause/ Zweites Frühstück / Pausenbrot

PausenbrotGermans have plenty of words to describe a meal that is eaten between main meals. Far from being unhealthy, eating small snacks between meals is encouraged to prevent overeating at lunch and dinner. Eating a snack between breakfast and lunch is very traditional in German schools and this is called Pausenbrot (recess bread if you translate it literally) or Zweites Frühstück (second breakfast). Since German schoolchildren generally don’t eat meals at school, there’s quite a long wait between breakfast and lunch, which typically they eat at home. So, the Pausenbrot is meant to make sure students have the energy and ability to concentrate for the entire morning. Although the word Pausenbrot indicates that it’s a sandwich snack, it doesn’t necessarily have to contain bread. Pausenbrot may be a small sandwich, but fruit is quite typical, and yogurt or a Müsli bar are also popular Pausenbrot snacks.

Snack (Zwischenmahlzeit)

SnacksAdults also need to keep their energy levels up during the day. For them, it’s the Zwischenmahlzeit (in-between meal) that keeps them going between meals. A Zwischenmahlzeit is also referred to as Brotzeit, Vesper or Zweites Frühstück. The English word Snack is also used, as is Imbiss, although these refer more to actual meals that may replace main meals, whereas the Zwischenmahlzeit is meant to be eaten in addition to the main meal.

Lunch (Mittagessen)

Luncheon dishTraditionally, German families eat their main meal during the day, between 12 and 2 p.m. However, many families now eat the warm meal in the evening. A typical lunch plate might consist of Kartoffelsalat mit Würstchen oder Frikadellen (potato salad with sausage or meat balls), Spätzle mit Geschnetzeltem (Spätzle noodles with stir-fry), Schnitzel mit Buttergemüse (Schnitzel with buttered vegetables) or Fischstäbchen mit Kartoffelpüree (Fish sticks with mashed potato). Meat is served most every day, particularly pork and chicken. Vegetables are also a standard part of any Mittagessen. Typical vegetables served at lunchtime are grüne Bohnen (green beans), Möhren (carrots), Erbsen (peas)and Kohl (cabbage). Potatoes are also a staple and come in the form of Salzkartoffel (boiled), Knödel (dumplings), Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes), Krokette (croquettes), Kartoffelpüree (mashed potatoes) and of course, Pommes Frites (french fries). Of course, as popular as potatoes are, rice and noodles are also eaten as side dishes.

Evening Meal (Abendbrot)

AbendbrotAbendbrot when literally translated means “evening bread”. It is a light meal that is eaten usually between 6 and 7 pm, since German families generally tend to eat their main meal during the day. A typical Abendessen consists of a selection of whole grain bread, cheeses, deli meats and sausages, mustards and pickles (gherkins are very popular). The evening meal is accompanied by a salad and/or soup, depending on the season. A glass of sparkling mineral water (Mineralwasser) or a glass of juice (Saft) is usually the beverage of choice for young people.

Coffee and Cake (Kaffee und Kuchen)

Coffee and CakeKaffee und Kuchen literally means “Coffee and Cake” and it’s very similar to the English tradition of “Teatime”. It’s a custom that brings families together to enjoy a little “Gemütlichkeit” (coziness). Families and friends gather together in the mid to late afternoon to drink coffee and enjoy a slice of cake or two, often homemade. Typical cakes you might find at such a gathering include Schwarzwälderkirschtorte (Black Forest cake), Bienenstich (bee sting cake), Käsekuchen (cheesecake made with Quark) and fruit tarts such as Zwetschenkuchen (plum tart) or Apfelkuchen (apple tart). When people don’t have time to bake at home, they often purchase pastries from the corner Bäckerei (bakery) such as Mohnstückchen, a poppy seed pastry and Apfeltasche, an apple-filled strudel-type pastry pocket.

The cakes and pastries are, of course, almost always accompanied by a steaming hot cup of rich German coffee with cream or condensed milk. However, tea has become more popular over the last decade, particularly in Ostfriesland, where it has always been traditional and where a quarter of all the tea in Germany is consumed.

Fast Food

Fast foodJust like American kids, German children also like to eat so-called Fast Food. And, just like in North America, the increase in consumption of Fast Food among German children has lead to increasing problems with overweight and obesity. According to a recent study, German children spend about 15 Euro (approximately $ 19) per week on Fast Food. About one third of all male youths and one sixth of all female youths eat fast food at least one a week. This is much less than American children but is becoming a serious problem all the same.

The most typical Fast Food meals eaten in Germany are similar to those eaten in American — namely burgers, pizza and fries from well-known chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut. Other popular meals are Bratwurst, served with a bread roll (Brötchen), Currywurst (a sliced sausage served with a curry-flavored ketchup sauce and Pommes Frites (french fries) served either with mayonnaise or ketchup or sometimes with both! This combination is called Pommes rot-weiss referring to the red ketchup and the white mayonnaise. The sausages and fries can all be purchased from street stalls known as Würstchenbuden.

One of the most common fast food meals has risen to such popularity that it outsells all US fast food chains in Germany combined. Döner Kebab was first introduced in Germany by Turkish immigrants, and now you’ll find Dönerbuden (kabob vendors) on virtually every street corner in large towns and cities. A Döner Kebab is made from thinly sliced meat (veal, lamb or poultry) cut from a rotating vertical roasting spit. The meat is served in a warm pita pocket or flatbread (Fladenbrot) along with lettuce, onion, cucumber, tomatoes and a yogurt sauce (Joghurtsoße).

Table Manners and Eating Habits


In addition to differences in the type of food eaten, there are also many differences in the way food is bought, served and eaten, as well as in table manners. Here are some of the differences you will find if you eat at a restaurant or with a family and some tips on how to behave!

At the dinner table:

  • Germans tend to eat less with their fingers so use a fork to eat your fries.
  • A sit-down meal is eaten with both a knife and fork so don’t just use your knife to cut your food and then only use your fork.
  • Germans don’t put their hand on their lap while eating and it’s considered rude to put your elbows on the table.
  • Make sure you compliment the homecook or chef by saying “das schmeckt (gut/lecker/wunderbar)” – it tastes good/yummy/wonderful.
  • When eating or drinking together, wait until someone says “Guten Appetit” or wants to “anstossen”(click glasses to say “cheers”).

At a restaurant:

  • Unless it is a fancy restaurant you don’t usually have to wait to be seated. You can just find a table that is free.
  • At bars, in cafés and in informal crowded Restaurants, it is perfectly OK to sit down next to strangers, as long as you get an affirmative response to the question “Ist hier noch frei”? (Is this seat vacant?)
  • Don’t expect any ice cubes in your soda, you need to ask for it. There are NO free refills on drinks (and therefore no such term).
  • The basket of bread or pretzels on the table usually costs extra, so don’t be surprised if you are charged for what you eat.
  • Water will not automatically be brought to your table. You have to order it and you will be brought bottled water which you have to pay for.
  • You will be asked if you want the water “mit oder ohne Kohlensäure” meaning still or sparkling. If you want tap water you will have to specify that you would rather have “Leitungswasser”. Note: It is not customary to serve tap water at a restaurant in Germany.
  • If you cross your knife and fork on your plate, it means you are just pausing. If you lay your knife and fork side by side, it means you are finished, and the waiter may come and take your plate away.
  • Doggiebags are still mostly unknown so your waiter/tress may be surprised if you asked to take leftovers home with you.
  • Tips are not usually as generous as in the US, since German wait staff are usually paid more per hour and don’t rely on tips for their wages. A general rule is to round up the bill, so if your bill is, say 22.50 Euros you might give 24 or 25. A general rule of thumb is to leave about 10%.
  • Unlike in the US, you may find that your waiter/waitress will remain at the table while you pay, so make sure to let them know how much tip you want to leave. For example, if your bill is 15.70 Euros and you want to leave 1.30 Euros as a tip then say “Siebzehn bitte” when handing him/her a 20 Euro note.
  • While credit cards are accepted in the majority of restaurants, it is more common to pay with cash.