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 home-cook 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”). Mostly, the one who invites makes the first step. And it is considered as rude if you are drinking before the person who invites you drinks (or says “Zum Wohl” or “Prost”).
At a restaurant, bars or cafés
- 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. Mostly it is served in restaurants as an opener before the main menue.
- 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.
- Drinking water from the tap is perfectly safe. Tap water is strictly controlled in Germany and so there is no risk. There are only a few exceptions, for example in public places or on trains, when a tap has a notice saying: “Kein Trinkwasser” (No drinking water).
- In Germany there are a variety of meals which include pork, beef or chicken. You can always ask which meat is included in a meal if you do not want to eat a particular type of meat. Traditionally Germans eat a lot of pork.
- You might find a lot of places which sell “Döner”, which is simply kebab meat in a bread roll. The meat is either chicken, veal or lamb. Döners, like other fast food (pizzas, burgers, fries, etc.) are usually eaten with your fingers, without cutlery (knives & forks). However, cutlery is usually used when eating at a table.
- A lot of German sweets contain gelatine, which is made from pork. So if you want to make sure that a sweet is halal, buy the ones that have “vegetarian” on the label or check the list of ingredients for “Gelatine”.
- Germany has a variety of cheap supermarkets known as “discounters” (for example, ALDI, LIDL, and Penny), as well as more expensive supermarkets (for example REWE and EDEKA). You’ll find everything you need for everyday life at a supermarket. There are also farmers’ markets, and smaller supermarkets, including Turkish, African, Asian or Greek supermarkets. If you only eat halal meat and sweets you will most likely find these at the Turkish or Arabic supermarkets (or restaurants).
Unlike supermarkets, some petrol stations are open 24h a day and often sell groceries, too, but they are very expensive in comparison.
- Drinking alcohol, mostly beer and wine, is common at social events in the evening, such as during dinner or meeting friends. However, it is perfectly OK not to drink alcohol and many Germans do not drink any alcohol at all either. If you are offered an alcoholic drink, you can always say “nein, danke” if you don’t want it. It is illegal to drive when you have been drinking alcohol.
- Smoking is common in many public places, and both men and women smoke. In restaurants and at train stations there are special “smoking areas”. It is generally considered more polite to go outside or on the balcony when you smoke. Smoking next to nonsmokers, children or pregnant women is considered to be rude.