Here’s how to order food in German
Published on August 17, 2020 / Updated on November 24, 2023
You’re out at a German restaurant and the waiter is approaching – how do you order without sounding like you’re barking vocabulary words at them? Don’t panic, there are only a few phrases you need to know.
You’re looking online, and the names of the restaurants are one clue as to what to expect, but there are a few you might not know. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on good food! You probably can figure out ein französisches Restaurant is a French restaurant, ein italienisches Restaurant is an Italian restaurant, and ein chinesisches Restaurant is a Chinese restaurant (you’ll probably see ein asiatisches Restaurant for Asian restaurant as well). But for German food, there are a couple words to be on the lookout for: Weinstube which is a wine tavern, and the variations on brewery: Kulturbrauerei, Hausbrauerei, and Brauhaus are just a few.
Now that you’ve found your restaurant, let’s crack open the menu. The first section will probably be called Vorspeis’, and these are your appetizers. It’s possible there will also be a Suppen and Salate sections as well for soups and salads. If you’re not that hungry, you’ll just move along to the Hauptspeise, or main courses. Save room for Nachtisch’! That’s dessert.
The drinks section is often titled, Zu Trinken, to drink.
But wait, seasonal food in Germany is a very big deal, so you will definitely want to ask about the Tagesangebot, or daily special. If it’s Spargel (white asparagus), Grünkohl (kale), Pfifferlingen (Chanterelle mushrooms), or Steinpilz (another kind of mushroom!) season, you’ll be sure to see these specialties on the daily specials.
The easiest phrase to remember when ordering food is Ich hätte gern [thing you’re ordering]. For example: Ich hätte gern das Schnitzel, bitte. You can also use the verb bringen, like this: Könnten Sie mir bitte ein glas Hauswein bringen?, Could you bring me a glass of house wine, please?
Now your food has arrived, but don’t dive in just yet. At least one of you needs to say Guten Appetit! before you start (or Mahlzeit! in Bavaria or Austria, though they also say this as a greeting at points close to lunchtime). When the wine or beer has been poured, it’s customary to toast everyone at the table with a hearty Prost! or Zum wohl! – however, don’t forget to look each person in the eye before you drink, it is extremely rude not to and you confer bad luck not only on yourself but the other person as well. People take this very seriously in Germany so this is no time to get shy!
You can flag down your waiter and ask, Die Rechnung, bitte!, The bill please!, or say I’d like to pay, which is Ich möchte bitte zahlen.
Leaving a tip is customary in Germany, and the amount to add to your bill is 10%. However, you need to hand it to your waiter directly. The process goes like this: your waiter comes with the bill, or tells you directly it’s €18.50, you then say Mach 20, and hand them €20. So you do the maths of how much the tip will be, and tell your waiter the total. You can do this before they put the amount in the credit card machine as well, most machines won’t have the option to add the tip after it has been handed to you. It’s polite to make it a round number, so if 20 cents will put the total over 10%, just do it anyway.
Hooray! Let’s go out for a meal to celebrate learning about how to order food in German. You’re buying though!