10 things you should know before going to a German restaurant
Don't fall into the tourist traps: Follow these tips for a faux-pas-free visit to a German restaurant. Keep in mind that these only apply to average eateries - five-star joints follow international rules of their own.
In German restaurants, you likely won't be greeted at the door by a smiling, menu-holding employee waiting to escort you to the perfect table, especially selected to meet your needs. The upside is that you can pick your own. In smaller cafes, joining someone else at a table is acceptable - so don't be surprised if a stranger takes a seat across from you, especially if you're sitting alone.
Share the menu
Since you don't get escorted to the table, there's no one to hand you the menu. Usually there's one or two lying on the table already. Generally, there are fewer menus on the table than chairs, so if you're dining with friends, you'll have to snuggle up and view the menu together.
'Hi my name is…'
Don't except a server to swoop down on your table as soon as your rear end has made contact with the chair. You may have to scan the place until you make eye contact with someone in an apron and give them a wave before you can place your order. Often there's not just one server assigned to each table, so don't be surprised if someone entirely different clears your plate later on.
Don't come thirsty
Ice water does not automatically appear on your table, because there is no such thing as free drinks. Even water, either fizzy or still, must be ordered - and paid for. Beware! Water costs at least as much as a beer, and there are no bottomless refills.
Think before you touch
In many restaurants, standard types of bread - like baguette slices or Italian rolls - are complimentary with the meal. (The basket is not replenished, though, when it's empty.) However, in traditional southern German pubs, soft pretzels and German-style bread varieties can often be found on the table. Careful! The waiter makes an exact count when totaling up the bill, so taking a bite will cost.
Learn fork language
You finished your meal half an hour ago, but your plate is still on the table? Then you probably don't speak fork language. Placing your silverware at a 3 or 4 o'clock position on your plate is the signal to the server that you're done. It's also a sign to your dining partner that they are now free to steal any remaining food on your plate.
No ice in your drinks
Ice cubes are a rarity in general, even for beverages like Coca Cola or Sprite. According to conventional wisdom, it's not healthy to consume (non-alcoholic) liquids that are below room temperature. While Coke, sparkling water, juices and other drinks will be served lukewarm, you can be sure that your beer is chilled to just the right temperature - without the help of ice cubes, of course.
Put coins in your pocket
After drinking all that warm Coke, you probably have to use the restroom. When you get there, don't be surprised to find a person in a white jacket guarding the entrance with a plate of coins. He or she is there to clean the toilets - and expects a small tip for doing so, regardless of how expensive your meal was. So don't forget to throw a 50-cent coin in your pocket before leaving your table.
'How was everything?'
German servers are trained to inquire about the enjoyability of your meal when they clear your plate. This has the (im)practical consequence that, at that point, nothing more can be done to improve it. The correct answer to "How was everything?" is, of course, "Good." If you say, "Terrible," be prepared to merely get a polite nod in response.
In every country, tipping presents tourists with plenty of opportunities for a faux-pas. In Germany, the bill is generally rounded up. 5-10 percent is a vague rule of thumb. For a coffee costing 1.80 euros, you would give 2. For a meal costing 36.40, you could give 38 euros if things were decent, 39 if you need the extra euro for the restroom, or 40 if you don't want to carry around extra change.