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customs in France/Germany/Italy for meals

What are traditional meal expectations at meals at restaurants in France/Germany/Italy ? Customs /routines/courses not typical in United States restaurants.

Posted by
440 posts

Coffee is consumed after a meal not with, and a knife and fork is used not just a fork chasing food around the plate.

Posted by
14414 posts

Greet the staff when you enter and greet your waiter when s/he first comes to you. Waiters will not rush you. Signal for them when you're ready to order and especially when you're ready to pay. I've learned to ask for the bill when my dessert or final drink appears. Even when they bring the bill, they will leave you in peace until to signal that you're ready to pony up. It seems to be that many waiters take pride in their workplace and appreciate compliments on the food.

House wines in France and Italy are usually good and can be ordered by the glass or the carafe (1/4 or 1/2 liter). You can ask to taste and then decide. Tap water is fine to drink but can be hard to get and could be tepid. (In Switzerland, the group ordered a pitcher of tap water, anyone who didn't have any other drink was charged for the water - haven't had that in other countries though.) Many restaurants are closed between lunch and dinner. If they have outdoor seating, you are likely to see some tables with cloths and table settings, others that are nearly bare. The bare ones are for people who want to have a drink, the set ones are for diners (lunch and dinner). If you aren't sure, ask a waiter before you sit down. Tell him whether you want to have a meal, a light snack or just a drink and he'll seat you accordingly - or apologize and send you away politely, ( usually). Smoking is almost always permitted at outside tables. Drinks (coffee, coke, water) are expensive - you're paying for the real estate. Sit as long as you want. If you just want a quick drink, go inside and stand at the bar - prices are considerably less, especially in Italy.

Posted by
21249 posts

We find that reservation are far more important than traditionally in the US and you are treated better with a reservation. Even if the reservation is only made an hour or two ahead of time. We have learned that if there is a special restaurant that we want to go to in the evening is to wonder by around lunch and make the reservation for that evening. I think that the European restaurants in general (maybe not all) view a reservation as a sign of respect for the restaurant.

Also I would add, be very observant of how others are handling the bill payments. In some restaurants we have notice that after the bill is presented some just walk up to the cash register, pay the bill and then leave. They do not always pay the waiter. Tipping is another issue. Rarely seen it added to the bill even for large groups. Our guideline is roughly ten percent, rounding up the bill to even Euro (if that falls with 10%) and, of course, leaving the change on the table. And again it helps to be observant of what other tables are doing provide they are not fellow tourists.

"Dogie bags" are not common. Although we do it, splitting a main course is not common. If splitting a meal, you need to be creative with your ordering.

And don't eat pizza with your fingers. Pizza is not a finger food in Europe. Use you knife and fork.

Posted by
4412 posts

And don't eat pizza with your fingers. Pizza is not a finger food in Europe. Use you knife and fork.

That's simply not true. I've eaten pizza often in Italy and see Italians eat it with their hands, they typically fold a slice in half and eat it that way and I've seen Italians eat it with a knife and fork. I've witnessed Germans, French, Spanish, Dutch etc all eating pizza either with hands or with knife and fork. It's a personal preference. If you Google 'how do Italians eat pizza' you'll end up with so many opposing viewpoints it's clear that there is no set rule (if anyone needs a set rule in how to eat something).

Posted by
6078 posts

A few things I've observed or had told to me by locals:

  1. salads may not come first, they may be at the end
  2. dont expect bread and butter, or bread and olive oil (ala Olive Garden) to appear on the table before your meal. Makes no sense to fill up on that when you have real food coming. If its there, its because they've dealt with Americans before.
  3. no hovering servers. You need something, get their attention, but not by snapping fingers and calling "garçon" (joke). Since they're not depending on tip income, they aren't going to keep asking if everything's OK every few minutes, and then try to hurry you out so they can seat another group.
  4. Cut your bread, don't tear it apart. Especially breakfast rolls.
  5. Food might come to the table as its ready, not waiting for all orders to be ready at once. Don't wait to start. You're not leaving until everyone's done anyway.
  6. servers in better places are not part-time college students, they're full-time professionals, and prefer to be treated with respect, rather than US-friendly and familiar. Don't take it personally.
  7. pepperoni is not pepperoni.

Its great that you're interested in this ahead of time.

Posted by
337 posts

Europeans eat dinner late. Many restaurants in Italy don't even open for dinner until 7:30pm.

Like others have said, restaurant dinners are very leisurely. You'll have your table all night long if you want.

After-dinner coffee in Italy is always espresso. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink. (Then again, if you like cappuccino after dinner, go ahead and order it! They'll know you're American already, and it's your vacation!)

Enjoy!!

Posted by
4412 posts

salads may not come first, they may be at the end

Ah yes, used to get me all the time when I visited the States. The first time I received a salad I just let it sit there expecting my meal to come straight away to eat with it before I eventually realised it was served as an appetiser. It's never really happened to me throughout Europe except for when I was in Germany last, they probably thought we were expecting it to be served like that. Salads tend to be large affairs and usually consumed as a dish in its own right, often with meat, fish or eggs.

And I never really understood why American salads usually came with a little packet of crackers. Are you supposed to crumble them over or just take bites as you go along? I've always left them in the packet as they always seemed quite superfluous.

I can't really think of any particular customs or routines that differ that much from an average American restaurant other than the different approach to service and timing. Expect in many restaurants to have the table to yourselves for the whole night unless the restaurant opens early and you're eating early.

Posted by
2489 posts

Reservations- I agree make them if you can. If you wander by a restaurant at prime time and It’s empty, it’s either for a good reason, or tables are reserved. Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter to help translate. Many of the younger ones in particular enjoy practicing their English. Be sure and let them know if you have food allergies or are not disposed toward eating innards. In tourist areas you may get an English menu. Sometimes a sign of sub par food, but not always. In Italy tradition is first course, second course, etc. You don’t need to be beholden to that. If you see a pasta dish and that is all you want, let them know you won’t be ordering a second dish and often they will grow that pasta dish a bit. Drink the house wine, it’s almost always acceptable to good and inexpensive. Cocktails are not common but in Italy we enjoyed some aperitifs like Campari and soda, nice on a hot day. Eat leisurely. If you are leaving and realize you’ve only been there an hour you’re doing it wrong.

Posted by
12400 posts

"...they don't open until 7:30 pm.." Likewise in Paris, and elsewhere in France that I've seen.

Posted by
3845 posts

We really enjoy dining in Italy and not having the hovering wait-staff that we experience in the US. It's refreshing to have the table for however long we choose to enjoy our evening meal. Compare that to our recent experience in a US restaurant where the waitress brought our bill with our main dishes "so we wouldn't need to wait" - ugh!

Posted by
14414 posts

Salads are served after the main course in France - but not so much at restaurants these days. My French friends serve meals that way.

In Italy, they often bring bread with the menu. But locals don't touch it until they've finished their pasta. Then they use the bread to wipe it the last of the sauce. It's considered gauche (or worse) to eat bread, especially with oil (which they will bring you if you ask) before that.

I recently saw a program on a French news channel (France24) and a local was explaining table manners. Among them, eat everything with a fork and knife (including things like shrimp that you have to shell), touch nothing with your fingers . . . except bread, which you should always break, never cut. Others I remember were absolutely no elbows on the table and never have your hands below the table!

Posted by
4671 posts

Desserts in German/Austrian restaurants are often fairly minimal - quite frequently you'll get a choice of apple strudel, ice cream, or "rote gruetze" (a mixture of cream and preserved fruit) and that will be that. The elaborate cakes stereotypically associated with Germanic culture are usually eaten late-afternoon as an isolated treat and social event, so if you want them you often need to go to a cafe or specialist cake shop (Kondittorei, which will almost always have chairs and tables for people who want to eat there), and don't leave it any later than 1700 because the good ones will probably have sold out.

Posted by
2489 posts

Oh, another for France: don’t blow your nose at the table!

Posted by
4412 posts

Oh, another for France: don’t blow your nose at the table!

I would suggest that applies to everywhere!

Posted by
11450 posts
  • Tap water is free in France.. and they do not mind serving it to you.. -but in Italy they may refuse to bring you tap water instead insisting on charging you for bottled water -bread is not free in Italy.. but is in France -bread is never cut.. always torn -butter is often NOT provided.. if you want it you usually have to ask. -if you want to stop by a cafe for just a drink , if there are tables set with silver ware and some not... choose the table that is unset.
  • when you approach a cafe entrance try and catch servers eyes.. they may just nod at you to seat yourself.
  • you have to ask for the bill
  • most europeons do NOT tip 15-20 percent.. its more like just rounding up to nearest euro for a coffee.. and 5%-10% for a good dinner.. but they now expect more if they think you are Americans.. -bathrooms in Paris always seem to be either up narrow stairs or down narrow stairs -splitting meals is not encouraged.. although often splitting a dessert or appy is fine..
  • an "entree" in france is the appy.. not the main course

Always greet staff with a bonjour BEFORE you say anything else.. ( this obviously pertains to france )

Don't put your phone on the table at an outdoor cafe. .

Posted by
12400 posts

When the restaurant staff see the credit card I give them to pay with, that will be enough to betray me as American, ie a credit card without a chip but rather a chip and signature card plus it has Bank of America on it.

On one of the recent past trips to Berlin, I had spoke German to the waiter at dinner, giving him my order, etc. When I asked for the bill also in German, he handed me the little tray on which I placed a credit card that had "California" on it. That was deliberate. He came back talking English even though we had talked German prior to his seeing the California Master Card. Obviously, he did not know where I was from prior.

Posted by
4412 posts

You’d think. Dined out in America lately?

Are we talking Taco Bell or somewhere serving real food?

I've eaten out in America more times than I can remember and I don't recall anything that stood out as bad manners. The only things that stood out in particular is the amount of cheese that is served with so many dishes, the size of meals and also the constant attention by the wait staff and hurrying you up (I know they want to maximise the tip opportunity as much as they can).

The tip culture frustrates me as well but we won't go there!

Posted by
3165 posts

One thing I don’t think has been mentioned is the phenomenon of the “menu.” That is a set, 2 or 3 course, very good value lunch, or less frequently, dinner. Sometimes there are a couple of choices; sometimes, not. One rule almost always prevails, however. No substitutions!

Posted by
5657 posts

A friend traveled to Paris a number of years ago with her daughter. When she tried to order a glass of milk with her dinner, the wait person told her that only children were allowed to drink milk with dinner and would not serve her a glass of milk.

Posted by
4412 posts

A friend traveled to Paris a number of years ago with her daughter. When she tried to order a glass of milk with her dinner, the wait person told her that only children were allowed to drink milk with dinner and would not serve her a glass of milk.

Lol. Whilst I agree that there are only three liquids that should be drunk with a meal, water, beer or wine, I'm amazed at such arrogance. If the customer wants milk with their meal who is he to argue, it's not as if it it was a bizarre request!

Posted by
4671 posts

The fixed-price menu is largely a French and Belgian phenomenon. Also known as "prix fixe". The word "formule" is sometimes used - this is usually used to refer to an extremely cheap deal with very limited choice - often limited to two courses only and frequently lunch-only.

Sometimes the cheapest prix fixe on the menu will only be available at lunchtime or on specific days - this information may be in quite small print.