It is always important to remember one’s manners, whether eating at a restaurant or with family in their home. Here is a brief guide as to what to expect and how to behave when eating in Germany.
How One (Politely) Eats in Germany
Certain sets of table manners emerged in many European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries as symbols of cultural development and class distinction. Today, some families still value these century-old rituals. Forks a held in the left hand, knives in the right hand. Silverware, napkins, bread plates and glasses occupy are set in specific orders and arrangements. During dinners with many courses, you’ll use the silverware from the outside to the inside. And loud conversation and noises during the meal are frowned upon.
Dinner Table Manners
Compared to American eating culture, Germans tend to eat less with their fingers and use forks and knives, even when eating french fries. Both a knife and fork are used in order to eat a sit-down meal. Do not just use your knife to first cut your food and then only eat with your fork the little pieces. Don’t cut white asparagus with knives. Germans do not put one hand on the lap while they eat, as it is customary in the US. In fact, Germans consider that a rude manner, similar to putting both elbows on the table. Make sure you compliment the home-cook or chef by saying “das schmeckt (gut/lecker/wunderbar)!” This means that the food tastes good/yummy/wonderful. When eating or drinking together, wait until someone says “Guten Appetit” or wants to “anstossen“(say “cheers.” During festive dinners with friends, your boss or acquaintances, it is common that the host or guest holds a small speech, congratulating or toasting the host or acknowledge the chef.
Manners in a Restaurant:
Unlike in the US, in many German restaurants you don’t have to wait for a host to be seated. (unless it is a particularly fancy restaurant). You can simply find a table that is free and sit down. At bars, in cafés and in informal crowded Restaurants, it is perfectly OK to sit down at a table that is shared with strangers. Simply make sure to first ask, “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 the basket of bread or pretzels on the table usually costs extra. 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.
You will notice that noise levels in German restaurants are a great deal lower than in US restaurants, no matter if you’re in casual or fine dining restaurants. Germans deem it as rude to hold loud conversations at dinner tables and rather whisper than shout.
When you cross your knife and fork on your plate, it means you are merely pausing. Laying your knife and fork side by side at the edge of a plate, it means you are finished, and the waiter may come and take your plate away. Doggie bags are relatively unknown, so your waiter/tress will be surprised if you ask to take leftovers home with you.
Tips are not expected to be as generous as in the US, since German wait staff are usually paid more per hour. A general rule is to round up the bill, so if your bill is, say 22.50 Euros you might give 24.00 or 25.00 Euros. 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. This means you need to 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. Credit cards will be accepted in the majority of restaurants and waiters will come to the table with a small hand-held machine to swipe your credit card. Cash is still a common method to pay at restaurants.