Bring a coin to the store and: The 411 on German restaurants

If you caught my previous posts on the differences between Germany and the US, you might remember the seemingly basic daily activiity of running errands can be quite different already. Today, we’re returning to the supermarket once agan and then delve into the dangerous 😉 territory of eating out. Can’t be that hard, you’re saying? Just wait for it!

Bring back, bring back oh bring back my baby cart to me, to me

Disregard the unfortunate rhyming above. The hidden statement here: German groceries want you to bring your shopping carts back. Orderly. That’s right: no just randomly leaving yours somewhere in the parking lot or around the store. Their tactic? Money. Want a cart? Bring a coin. Outside stores, carts are strung together and you can fetch one by inserting a coin – usually 1 € – into a slot on the car, by this untying it. No worries: if you’re a good customer 😉 and bring your cart back to where you got it, you’ll get your money back. No losses for the store = no losses for you. We’re fair players here. And because we want our every penny back we also …

Return bottles to the store

Yes, that’s right. Stores don’t stop at the carts there. Thirsty? Grab a bottle of your favourite beverage from the shelves but be aware that the price noted isn’t the full one yet. When you pay, the store system automatically adds a so-called ‘Pfand’ – typically 0,25 € per bottle – to the price stated on the shelf. Don’t worry, though: you get your Pfand back when you return your empty bottles to the store. And if you’re anything like me you feel just that little bit feisty in getting a – actually only mental – discount on your next purchase that way.

Eating out


Sit down where you please

Waiting at the restaurant door to get seated? Nah. Just get inside and seat yourself wherever you please – unless there’s a reservation sign on a table, obviously. Unless you’re at a fancy restaurant or one that specifies reservations are necessary, it’s the norm to pick whichever table you want and waiters will attend to you soon. Waiting staff isn’t assigned certain tables. In fact, it’s not unusual to have one waiter pick up your order and another cash you at the end.

Tap? Not really

Now we’re not talking tap beer – locations that have it will gladly serve you up a foamy cold beer, no worries. But asking for tap water along with your meal? I’m afraid to tell you that’s not so much of a thing here; potentially even looked down upon as a cheap opt-out of ordering a beverage you’d have to pay for. Bottled water is the norm – whether it be ‘still’ or ‘sprudelnd’ (sparkling). The latter is what the majority of us go for – so refreshing! It’s what I keep at homes at all times, too, though I occasionally just have some straight from the tap, too.

Take your time

If you remember the rush at supermarket checkouts I told you about this right here is the amazing opposite. Unless the restaurant lets you know they already have a later booking for your table, you’re free to take all the time you want. If you’re long finished and can tell there’s a request for more room it’s obviously not the most impolite thing to get up and leave but ultimately it’s up to you.
… but taking your leftovers home? …
Nicely satisfied by your meal yet left with some remainders, you might figure you can just get them doggy-bagged for another day. Good luck on that one in German restaurants. As awesome as I personally consider this concept – avoiding food waste is always good – it’s not common in Germany. The only place I’ve had a chance to take leftovers home because they did in fact have boxes for it was Vapiano.

Let’s talk tipping [Or. Trinkgeld]

Unlike in the US, German waiting staff doesn’t depend on your tip making up most of their salary. This doesn’t mean they didn’t appreciate it as much [you still don’t make a fortune as a waiter]; it’s just not that you’re required to. Most restaurant goers still tip unless the service was terrible. Since staff doesn’t ‘expect’ you to give it, the common practice is to ask your waiter for the bill [note that it doesn’t automatically arrive at your table after you finished your meal; see point below on taking your time]. When he shows up at your table with it, hand them over – yes, another situation where many of us use cash rather than credit cards – the money and say how much you want to pay. I.e. if your bill says 33,20 € and you enjoyed the service, you might hand them 35 and say “stimmt so” [as in: that’s right = keep the remainder] which then indicates how much they get to keep to themselves.

And that’s it for another episode of the small but important differences between Germany and the US.

Happiness-inducing today:  A short uplifting conversation after a rough day at work.

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Which one of these surprised you the most?

What  differences between your homecountry and places you’ve traveled to have you noticed before?






10 thoughts on “Bring a coin to the store and: The 411 on German restaurants

  1. Kristy from Southern In Law says:

    I love hearing about these little differences! Australia is quite similar – many of our shops have trolleys/shopping carts with coins to release them (particularly in shopping centres or small stores where they are at risk of people running away with their trolley :P) and our waitstaff also don’t rely on tips! Also, a few years back they changed the food laws so many restaurants won’t let you take home the leftovers due to health and safety issues (because if you’re taking them home and it’s hours after your meal and they haven’t been properly stored, you might blame them when you get food poisoning etc).

    • Miss Polkadot says:

      Ah, that makes sense about restaurants not wanting to get sued if improper storage of leftovers ends up with people getting sick. It seems to work (?) in the US, though, so I still wish it was more common around here.

  2. GiGi Eats Celebrities says:

    THIS GIRL never ever has leftovers. EVER- I was born and raised as the CLEAN PLATE girl. Honestly, as I get older, I should PROBABLY dole out smaller portions… But I am hungryyyyyy so I am going to keep on WOLFING down pounds of salmon, LOL!

  3. chasetheredgrape says:

    So many of these are applicable to the UK too. It’s so nice to read that we aren’t the only odd ones out in the world!
    The only one that differs is the water – tap water is perfectly acceptable. Gosh in Australia they bring you tap water to your table automatically without asking! It’s great!
    What I don’t like about eating out in Australia is they tend to want to clean the table and remove plates before everyone has finished eating. David always eats faster than me but they are always coming over to remove his plate as soon as he has finished. Annoys me every time as I just think it’s rude!

    • Miss Polkadot says:

      The free water sounds amazing, particularly in a hot region like yours.
      While I have no backup information here, I think it’s actually considered impolite for waiting staff to remove plates until everybody has finished eating around here. I would feel stressed or uncomfortably hurried if they did, too.

  4. mylittletablespoon says:

    Gah the tipping. I like getting tips, let’s be real, but even as a server I still wish they didn’t exist. Or at least wish the system was more like yours. Here it is SUCH an expectation. The servers completely expect to get a certain percentage and get mad when they don’t. I think a tip should be a TIP, meaning, a little bonus if you went out of your way to make a pleasurable experience. Because it’s so expected here I find some servers don’t even try to make nice service.
    The water thing is weird though. So if you don’t order and pay for anything you just have nothing to drink? Like jen we drop off water immediatly when we seat people (and yes we do seat people….I hate when people juat seat themselves haha). I never order a drink. I’d be so thirsty in your country.

    • Miss Polkadot says:

      Ah, I’m afraid you would indeed stay thirsty if you didn’t order a beverage. No free water brought to your table in Germany. This might also be because – that’s what I’ve heard from restaurant owners – some locations make more from drinks than food. So they sure won’t give you any free options. Sad but true.
      What you said about waiting staff not even giving much or any effort when they know tip is a given: wow. That’s a bummer.

  5. Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets says:

    I was always shocked by the lack of tipping because it’s a must here. I do love how you can sit at a table for hours there though without being pushed out because waiters and waitresses aren’t trying to put you out to get more tips.

  6. Kaylee says:

    Another interesting number of difference that I would not have known without you!
    I’m greatly surprised that there’s only bottled water!!! As a water lover, I would be downright broke having to spend on that.
    I do have a question on groceries. Do they do a lot of bulk purchasing there? If so, how does that work?
    Do you bring your own containers?

    Can’t wait for more!!

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