“Man Muss”: Paying at German Restaurants

Maybe you’ve just enjoyed your first big German meal at a Brauhaus, complete with schnitzel and spaetzel and Weissbier and singing maidens with braids and a dirndl (Ok, you caught me – we don’t eat out much here). Anyway, now it’s time to pay. So your German maiden brings you a check.

And then stands there. You look at her. She looks at you. Now what?

This is a very small difference between Germany and the U.S., but it can lead to a lot of confusion and embarrassment at first. It’s something that we certainly didn’t know before we came here: when it’s time to pay , your waiter will stand there and wait for you to hand over the money. They make change directly out of a wallet that they carry around.There’s no leaving money on the table and waiting for them to come back with change, which actually makes things more convenient in some ways. However, the other side of it is that you don’t even leave the tip money on the table – you have to tell the waiter how much you are giving them as a tip so they can make proper change, all in one go.

Tipping in restaurants is typically 10%, so it doesn’t sound like it’s that hard – but if you’ve been brought up to be able to do this at your own pace, then paying for your food here can leave you sweating bullets. Plus, we are used to the idea of a 15-20% tip, so if total panic sets in, we tend to just round up and up and up…Doing math and speaking German at the same time is just too many foreign languages to handle. So, if they couldn’t tell we were Americans before, the strange and generous tip certainly seals the deal.

A delicious German meal, paid for in an awkward manner.

A delicious German meal, paid for in an awkward manner.

If you’re eating in a group (or even just in a pair), it’s no problem for them to split the check – in fact, it’s pretty standard for them to ask if it’s together or separate, and then sit down at the table and add up how much each individual person owes towards the bill.

Two helpful phrases to know:

“Auf _____.”  – If you’re handing over a large bill, this specifies how much you are giving. Maybe you are giving them a 50 euro bill, but you owe 18 for your food and want to leave a 2 euro tip. “Auf zwanzig,” simply means “Make it 20,” and you should get 30 euros back.

“Stimmt so.” – Maybe you’re in the above scenario and you are actually handing over a 20. This is the equivalent of “keep the change” – more literally, “that’s exactly it.”


11 responses to ““Man Muss”: Paying at German Restaurants

    • I’m pretty sure just saying “zwanzig bitte” would work here, too. We’re learning about all of the “Dialekten” in Germany in my German class, and it would not surprise me if it were a regional difference 🙂

  1. Doing simple calculations is my nightmare, so this German practice of paying RIGHT NOW totally stressed me out. Will keep these phrases in my back pocket for next time. Thanks.

  2. China is the opposite, if you have to pay you have to flag down a waiter, then he has to get the total bill, then you give money, then the change comes back. The good thing is though … No tips!

  3. You are right, that is a weird system. It seems so much more polite and discrete the way you do it in the US (or probably most parts of the world). It makes you feel as if the waiter believes you might leave without paying, right?
    But I also remember my first dinner out in Manhattan. We had just finished our dessert when the check arrived. To me that seemed very rude at that time, like they wanted to kick us out, and still I find that custom kind of awkward. On the other hand, in Germany it can take up to 10 minutes until you get the check upon asking for it. Not sure what I prefer…

    • I’ve definitely had it ingrained in me that we should be able to get in and out of a restaurant as we please, even if we don’t have anywhere else to go afterwards! In the U.S., they may be trying to kick you out, but it’s also part of this customer service culture where the customer is attended to quickly and constantly, and anything less is considered to be sub-par service. It’s a more leisurely attitude in most of the European countries we’ve been in – in Spain, you can sit for hours talking with your friends at a cafe and the waitress won’t check up on you, because you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself. I appreciate the reasoning behind it, but I’m too damn American and impatient to make it work for me, most of the time 🙂

  4. I have plenty of experience with both ways of paying by now (German leaving in the US for the last 17 years) and I can do both but I definitely prefer the German willingness to split large bills. This whole “going Dutch” business where I end up paying $50 for a salad and a coke while the rest had appetizers, main course, desert and cocktails is super annoying and made me stop attending occasions where this type of splitting the bill might be used. It is much fairer if everybody pays their way.
    As to tipping, I guess you could always just accept the change and then hand the waiter the tip you consider appropriate separately, so no advanced math necessary. 🙂

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