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Restaurant question

I understand in Germany it is customary to not wait for a host or hostess to seat you upon entering an eating establishment, but rather to walk in and seat yourself. I am wondering how do they know to serve you and take you order if they did not see you come in. This may sound like a silly question, but this is very alien to restaurant service here in the U.S.

Posted by
4684 posts

The servers just keep an eye on which tables are occupied. Most restaurants that do this are open plan and don't have tables hidden away in side rooms.

Posted by
12040 posts

As soon as they see you, they'll come over. Your body language and the bare table will say "We would like to order."

Posted by
681 posts

I just spent three weeks in Germany and it worked exactly as Tom and Philip described.

Posted by
14580 posts

"...but this is very alien to restaurant service here in the US." The German proverb applies here: "Andere Länder, andere Sitten." (literally..other/different countries, other/different customs.) In terms of cultural differences what is the norm in Germany regarding seating in restaurants is different from that in the US. You enter the restaurant, see a table, go to it and sit down, as long no sign with the word "Stammtisch" or "Reserviert" is on it. Don't stand there waiting for the hostess to lead you to a table.

Posted by
8889 posts

And, when you are finished and want the bill, don't forget to get the waiter's attention and say "Bezahlen bitte". If you don't ask for the bill, you will never get it.
It is rude to give somebody the bill without being asked, they may not be finished. I understand this is not the case in the USA.

Both these customs (not waiting to be seated, not getting the bill without asking) are general in Europe, not just Germany.

Final point, in Germany, a dish on the menu may not come with vegetables or potatoes, you may have to order those separately. Look for a section on the menu called "Beilagen" (= side dishes). If you order a salad, this is a starter and is served before the main dish.
If you want something to drink, you can order Bier, Mineralwasser (mineral water), Mit Gas or ohne Gas (with or without bubbles), or wine. Most places have a house wine, usually local, which is server by the Glass (offenes wein) and is usually good value. The glass is usually a ¼ litre (ein Viertel), a good size. And when the glass is empty, just point to it and say "noch ein Glas bitte" (another Glass please).

Posted by
27 posts

Thanks for the tips guys! Chris, my wife is from Mexico and the same rules apply there as far as asking for the bill. Yes, I read that if you ask for tap or ice water in Germany the people will look at you in disbelief.

Posted by
6664 posts

"Yes, I read that if you ask for tap or ice water in Germany the people will look at you in disbelief."

True a number of years ago but less so today. Still, it's a less common request.

Posted by
3391 posts

I've been in Germany for the last few days around the Munich area. Regarding asking for tap water - most restaurants charge you for it and it's often written on the menu as a drink item. If they don't charge, there is often a requirement that you order drinks with a cost first before they will bring you tap water. I haven't been successful yet with just getting tap water for free with no other drinks ordered...hope springs eternal!

Posted by
4684 posts

Even if it isn't on the menu, it's worth asking for "Tafelwasser", which will be a no-name bottled water that isn't free, but will be cheaper than branded water.

The Germans genuinely don't like drinking tap water, for reasons that I've never understood. I once visited a German friend at her home, and when she saw me filling a glass with tap water to drink she almost ran to the fridge to get a bottle out.

Posted by
565 posts

Also, do not be surprised or offended if, during peak hours, a person or couple joins you at your table. Just a way to serve customers faster, and I've been able to have polite simple conversations with people this way.

Posted by
19116 posts

Conversely, if there are no empty tables but one or more partially occupied ones, feel free to sit at a table with strangers. It might be polite to approach the table and point at the open seat with a questioning look on your face. They will probably say, "Bitte", Please do.

Posted by
5697 posts

Regarding tap water, a waiter in Munich told us that it was illegal for restaurants to serve it -- funny, two nights later another restaurant (further from the downtown Christmas markets) had no problem serving it.