Enjoying local dishes, treats and beverages of all kinds can be the highlight of any trip. Here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind when dining in Germany.
When you enter a German restaurant or café, don't wait to be seated. In most places you're expected to choose your own seat. In less expensive eateries, it's appropriate to sit at a free seat at an occupied table, if there's nothing else available. Ask the person already at the table, "Ist hier frei?" (Roughly: Is this chair available?)
Sitting at someone else's table doesn't necessarily mean you have to talk to them. However, if your neighbor does seem open to conversation, it may just be a good opportunity to practice your German. Even if you don't exchange any other words, it's polite to wish your neighbor "Guten Appetit" (Enjoy your meal) and to say "Tschüss" or "Auf Wiedersehen" (Goodbye) when you leave.
Water is generally not complimentary in restaurants. If you order Wasser, you will be served mineral water with bubbles and no ice. Ask for stilles Wasser if you prefer water without carbonation. You will pay for either of these.
You can ask for a glass of Leitungswasser (tap water), but you may get a frown from wait staff who think you're being cheap.
Many beverages, including beer, are served according to volume. A restaurant may offer 0.2 ("null-zwei"), 0.3 ("null-drei") or 0.5 ("null-fünf")-liter portions.
Bread or any other complimentary appetizers are normally only served in finer restaurants. If you would like a basket of bread, you'll have to order it - and pay for it. In a more down-to-earth eatery, if it's brought to you without asking, you will not have to pay.
Don't expect the server to regularly ask how things are; it is considered more polite not to disturb guests while they are eating.
The waiter or waitress will probably bring the food and then disappear until you give a hand signal indicating you want to pay. The question, "Hat es Ihnen geschmeckt?" (Did you enjoy it?) won't come until after you've finished the meal. Granted, nothing more can be done about it, but the question is asked nevertheless. Leaving food on your plate may be seen as a sign that you didn't enjoy it.
Generally speaking, the knife is held in the right hand and the fork in the left (or vice versa for left-handers). However, the utensils do not change hands during the course of the meal. When you are done with your meal, place your fork and knife together on your plate, facing in from the right side - at about 4 o'clock. For the attentive server, this is a signal that he or she may clear your plate.
Place your fork and knife separately across the plate in opposite directions - with the fork pointed down and its tip resting on one edge of the plate and the tip of the knife on the other edge - if you are still enjoying your meal. This silent silverware language is common practice, even in private homes.
If you're going to partake of Germany's most famous beverage, then you also have to know how to toast correctly. The most common toasts are "Prost!" (Cheers!) or "Zum Wohl!" (To your health!). It's also very important to look each person at the table in the eye while you chink glasses with them. (According to local legend, those who drop their eyes are destined to seven years of bad sex.)
In Germany, kids are allowed to drink beer and wine from the age of 16. They can drink hard liquor once they're 18. Unless you look like a pre-adolescent, it's unlikely you will be asked to show identification. Also, drinking in public is legal in Germany, so don't be surprised if you see the occasional sidewalk drinker - without a paper bag.
Due to increasing reports of binge-drinking by teenagers that has led to several deaths in recent years, some people are calling for a hike in the drinking age.
In most restaurants and cafés, tipping is optional. It's customary to round up the bill, or tip approximately five to 10 percent. For example, if the bill is 2.80 euros, give the server 3 euros. If the bill comes to 22.40 euros, you can give 25 or 26 euros. If you were very happy with the service, give slightly more.
If you have the correct change, say, "Stimmt so." If you would like change back, say the total amount you would like to pay.
Be aware that most restaurants do not accept credit cards, so make sure you have enough cash before you go out to eat.
DW staff (kjb / als)
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