CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
So you want to go out to eat, and you are ready to brave a restaurant off-base! Great! You know some things are different, and you don’t want to offend our host nation. Here are some of the guidelines to help you out. Don’t worry, most Germans will be able to tell you are not from around here, and grant you some leniency and a smile and humble attitude can overcome most situations!
When you come in, do not wait to be seated. Sometimes suggestions maybe given, but unless there is a “Stammtisch” (reserved for regular customers) sign, you are free to choose an open table. You may be asked if other diners you do not know may join you at your table.
Your food may not all be served at the same time. However, it is not polite to start digging in unless those who are waiting have invited you to start. The same goes for drinks.
There are no free drinks. This includes refills and water. If you request water, you will be served carbonated mineral water (“mineralwasser”). If you prefer tap water ask for “stilles Wasser,” but know you may still see a charge for it.
Americans generally eat with one hand at a time; when we need to cut we break out both hands, but otherwise our dominate hand stays on our lap. Germans generally eat with knife in their right hand and fork in the left (or vice versa for lefties). The only time the silverware goes down is when reaching for their drink. Leaving your hands on your lap might lead some to wonder what you are doing!
Eating with two hands, also called continental style, might be hard to master. Most Germans will understand, but if you can remember, keep that left hand in sight on the table. When you are finished, your knife and fork can be laid across the right side of your plate.
Finger food is not prevalent or mannerly in most cases. If your pizza is served pre-sliced this may be a sign that they are used to American habits and expect you to pick it up. In most cases Europeans will eat pizza with a fork and a knife. If you know any New Yorkers, this might be just about their hardest habit to break! Some poultry products are considered finger food, but even French fries “pommes” will be served with a fork!
“Mabel, Mabel, strong and able, keep your elbows off the table!” It is polite only to let your wrists touch the table.
Meals out are considered an event. As such, less casual clothing is appreciated. Also, the event may take awhile. Don’t expect to get in and out in a short period of time. The food is cooked, most likely from scratch, when you order. It will take longer to get to your table. Consider ahead of time if that will be an enjoyable experience for your children.
The table is yours for as long as you are there and the wait staff will not pressure you to go. They will not hover or return to see how you are doing. If you need something, generally making eye contact is enough to bring them back, otherwise a polite gesture will work.
Likewise, they will not bring your bill until you ask for it (“Zahlen, bitte”). When you ask, be prepared to pay – they will stand and wait at your table. Credit/debit cards are rarely accepted at restaurants. Ask ahead, or carry Euro, to avoid embarrassment.
As for tipping, generally round up to the next highest Euro or two. A gratuity is already included in the bill and the wait staff’s pay is not dependent on tips. A 10% tip is considered very gracious! Pay the tip with the bill and do not leave it on the table – that seems like a mistake, not a tip.
Hopefully these tips help you the next time you decide to eat out a German restaurant!