Expat guide to Restaurants in Germany: 9 Tips every American should know before dining out in Deutschland.

Our first dinner out in Hannover, July 2010

1.) Make a reservation! Thinking about wandering the streets on a Friday or Saturday night in order to find somewhere to eat? Unless you are ok with takeout, think again. One thing we have learned since moving to Hannover is how important it is to have a reservation. Most restaurants are filled to capacity on the weekends; at more popular restaurants this can be equally true for weeknights.

2.) Find your own seat. If you find yourself standing in the entrance of a restaurant waiting to be seated and feel that everyone is starring at you, you are probably right. Although there is an exception to every rule, in the majority of restaurants you are required to seat yourself. Choose any open table you wish and plop yourself down. It’s ok, really. If it’s the evening and you have a reservation, look for your name on a reservation card on one of the tables and sit there. And if you don’t have a reservation- don’t sit at a table with a reservation card, because you will probably be in for an embarrassing moment.

3.) Pay for your water. Drinks are done differently here. Water will not be set on your table when you arrive. Drinking “Leitungswasser”, or “plumbing water” isn’t common in Germany and at a restaurant it’s just not done. (A side note to clarify that there is not unsanitary or wrong with it, it is just looked down upon as it is considered to be as it’s name implies “plumbing water”). Many restaurants won’t serve it and those few that do will often charge you for it.  It’s true. Thus, prepare yourself to pay for still or sparkling water while in German Restaurants. The cost won’t be much less than a soft drink, so if you are like me, you will opt for the soft drink. But I should also warn you that even the soft drink experience in Germany may be different that you expect. For starters, drinks here are served room temperature or slightly chilled with no ice and no straw. You’ll just have to get used to that. Perhaps a bigger change to deal with is the absence of free refills. Take note because you will have to pay for each and every one of your 200ml soft drinks and if you are used to drinking a lot that can add up quickly. I suggest drinking a large glass of water before going out to eat in efforts to make sure your thirst is well quenched before you set foot in a Restaurant.

4.) Practice your “come hither” glance. Well, maybe not exactly, but good eye communication technique can be very helpful in German restaurants as you will most likely need to flag down your waiter or waitress to get their attention. Wait staff are much less smothering in Germany than they are in the US. In general, they will leave you be unless you flag them down. Note that you will need to do this in order to get the check- no one will just give it to you. Ask for “Die Rechnung, bitte” and you’ll be in good shape. What shouldn’t you ask for? Read on…

5.) Don’t ask for a doggie bag. If you are really enjoying that dish but can’t seem to finish it either deal with leaving some behind, or find a little extra room in your stomach and shovel it in. Doggie Bags are another thing that generally aren’t done in Germany.

6.) Math-challenged? No Problem! After you flag down your waiter and get the bill, they will generally ask if the people at the table would like to pay together (zusammen), or separate (getrennt). If you need to pay “getrennt” then you are in luck- the waiter or waitress will generally whip out their calculator, or, if they are old school, a pad of paper and a pen, to figure out exactly how much each person owes based on what they ordered. No more figure out who owes what and dealing with uncomfortable situations that arise when one person pays too little.  Note here that you generally need to pay cash- only a few places will accept your credit cards- and that you can expect to pay the waiter directly at the table.

7.) A Tip on tipping. As a service charge is generally included with the price of your food, tipping is technically not necessary in Germany. That said, it is still common to give a 5-10% tip, or to round up to the next whole Euro if you are having a small meal or cup of coffee. There is no need to pay more. To an American who is used to tipping 20%, it may feel strange, almost wrong at first to tip so little, but rest assured, it is the norm in Germany. Note that I said “give” a tip and not “leave” a tip. In Germany you do not leave a tip on the table at a Restaurant, no, no- instead you give it directly to the waiter or waitress when you settle your bill. The correct way to do this is to hand over your cash and state the amount you wish to pay total including tip. For example, if your bill was 4 Euros and 30 cents and you wish to give a 70 cent tip to make the total you pay 5 Euros, you would say “Fünf, bitte” or “Five, please”. The waiter or waitress will know that you have added the tip in this amount and will generally thank you for the tip and then give you back any change (minus tip) you have coming.

8.) Out! Pay attention to the opening and closing hours of the restaurant. Many of them are only open for a few hours over the lunch break. If you are taking a late lunch, don’t dawdle or plan to stay and chat for along time after you finish your meal. The closing hours are fixed and it is not uncommon to be ask to leave If you are finished eating and still around when that hour hits. You’ve been warned.

9.) Enjoy the Experience. You’re in Germany! Sure, things may be different than you are used to, and you might be a little crabby about the no free refill policy, but sit back, suck it up and enjoy the adventure. Embrace differences and have fun. Life is too short not to savor every minute of it.

4 Responses to “Expat guide to Restaurants in Germany: 9 Tips every American should know before dining out in Deutschland.”

  1. Rich writes:

    Hey, Lisa,

    I’m gearing up to write to you two, but I just had to read three months of blog posts to catch up (and now it’s late — letter tomorrow, hopefully). Zena and I just totally enjoyed this post here. The reservation cards are totally different from Switzerland — we would be so confused if we went to a restaurant with that system! And yes, I was always thirsty because I didn’t want to pay for drinks and because the glasses are so small! Are people made differently in Europe?? Do they not require water with food?? So frustrating! We never got kicked out of a restaurant because we were always amazed that the Swiss did everything so late! Dinners could be from like 9:00-11:30 at night, which is well past my bedtime! And, oh my gosh, I *loved* not being smothered by wait staff in Europe. It’s so nice to eat at your own pace without constant attention!

    The biggest difference that stands out as I think back in my memory, though, was the cigarette smoking! We basically didn’t go to restaurants all winter because we couldn’t sit outside and didn’t want to deal with the smoke. And (don’t know if this happens to you), it’s no big thing to share a table with strangers (which I think is nice, in principle), so they can be smoking and *sitting right next to you*! I had no idea how to deal with that! I guess a lot of Swiss cantons passed anti-smoking laws that went into effect right after we left, so maybe it’s different now…

    The other thing that we just thought of was how we paid in cash, because we didn’t care about earning airline miles, because we didn’t use credit cards over there. It makes me notice how I *always* pay with credit cards here to earn the miles, and I put more thought than I should into accumulating free tickets and strategizing so that I can keep my premier status for another year (which isn’t going to happen this year because I had to switch airlines for most of my work trips). And I basically never thought about that there because we didn’t use credit cards and because we didn’t do short flights and because we got tons of miles flying across the ocean repeatedly.

    Wow, good blog post. Brings back lots of memories!

  2. Blue Cakes Blogger writes:

    Hi Rich!
    Regarding smoke in Restaurants- in Hannover we are lucky because smoking is forbidden in Restaurants. If a restaurant wants a smoking section they can have one, but it has to be in a separate room from the non-smoking section. We are very thankful for this rule (as we remember what it was like when we lived in France and had to deal with the smoke!). I’m not sure if this is the case throughout Germany or just in Hannover- next time we travel I will have to pay better attention. 🙂

  3. Sammy writes:


    simply ask for a bottle of mineral water (as in, a liter). Most German restaurants will serve a liter bottle, even if it isn’t on the menu. Usually it’s much cheaper than ordering a bunch of 200ml, plus you don’t have to wait thirsty 😉

    Tap water is a thing I’ll never get. Americans drink their chlorinated stuff, and most Germans ignore their much better tasting water. Oh well.

    Hope you’ll enjoy some nice restaurants 🙂

  4. Tom writes:

    I love it that they don’t hurry the customers here. In England it sometimes feels like we get the bill the moment the coffee cup hits the saucer. I’m enjoying this more relaxed style of dining 🙂

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