Should you tip when eating out in a restaurant in Germany?
Yes! Most people do tip a bit.
So the second question would be: how much should you tip?
This is a tricky part for a lot of American tourists here. In US, people are used to tip a lot like 20% or higher. This is because the waiter/waitress are getting paid with really low base salary and they rely highly on the tip to make a living.
Some American friends told me that even if they think the service or food is bad, they will still pay the minimum level of tips. It is seen as very bad if someone does not pay tips at all. Probably some extremely horrible food/services need to happen if someone is not tipping.
Waiter/waitress in Germany do not live on the tip
This is different story in Germany.
The waiter/waitress have a reasonable base salary and they do not live from the tips. Even so, people are used to tip. There is no special rules how many percent you should tip.
In general, you can tip around 10% or just “round it up”. For example, if you bill is 37 EUR, you can pay 40 EUR. Or if you bill is 42 EUR, you pay 45 EUR.
Tipping depends also on the situation
Let say, if you go to a restaurant just to take away food, you do not have to pay tips. Because tip is for the services of the waiter/waitress. (bringing you food, ordering, cleaning and tidying up tables, etc.). When taking away food, you are not really using the services.
The same applied if you are in a fast food restaurants, like McDonalds. You don’t need to pay tips as you are not using the services. Basically you order at the cashier, carry the food to your own seat, eating and then putting your tray back to the dishes collection point.
This is the same for any self-served restaurants or canteen liked places. Basically anywhere you need to pay first before you eat.
An example would be if you eat in the cafeteria in Ikea. You go to pick your own food and drink, then line up at the cashier, pay, eat and then put your tray and any trash back to the dishes collection points. No tips is needed.
The way how you pay are very different than how it would be in US!
In US, after you have asked for a bill, they will bring it to you and then walk away. Then you will have to write down the tip amount, and the total amount that you would like to pay.
There are normally some guidelines stated in the bill to help you with the calculation. For example, it will state how much the tip should be if you want to tip 20%.
After writing down your tip and total amount, you sign the bill. Then you can leave the bill at the table and leave, without needing to deal with the waiter/waitress again.
When I lived in the US, I was always wondering what is going to happen if I have a miscalculation. Let say, if my bill is $10, I put $2 as tip, but miscalculate the total to $13. Just wondering, anyway I have never got into strange situations with the bill…
The way to pay in Germany
In Germany, when you ask for the bill, the waiter/waitress will come to your table and ask if you want to pay together or separately. In most cases, they will come with their wallet to collect cash.
If you would like to pay with cards, you will need to tell the waiter/waitress. Either they are going to go back and pick their card device, or you would need to follow them to the cashier table and pay there.
They are going to tell you how much you need to pay. If you are paying cash, just tell them the total amount you would like to pay, including the tip.
For example, if they tell you the bill is 23 EUR. You can give them 30 EUR cash, and tell them 25 EUR please. In this case they are going to give you 5 EUR back.
If you are paying with cards, make sure to mention your desired pay amount before they enter it into the device. Sometimes it can be tricky for them to change the amount afterwards. So once they tell you the bill is 23 EUR. You can directly say: 25 EUR please. They can then enter 25 EUR instead of 23 EUR.
Cash or card?
In US I have almost never paid with cash but always with credit card.
In Germany, you can also pay with cards in most of the cases, but not always. And most of the people are still more used to paying with cash.
Tipping can be really a tricky topic depends on where you are from
After we told our US colleague how much he is expected to tip, after one week business trip here in Germany tipping more than 20% all the time, he finally realized why all the waiter/waitress are so happy to see him.
Back in Hong Kong, we do not really have a practice to tip. Most of the menu in the restaurants include a statement with very small font that 10% service fee will be charged on top of the bill. That’s why tipping is not needed.
And if you go to restaurants which do not include the 10% service charge, it is probably a small/ low priced teahouses. And in that case, you also wouldn’t need to tip.
It is important to understand the culture of different countries to avoid either tipping too much or too low. For example, you can appear very rude to people if you are not tipping at all when eating out in US!