At a Restaurant in Germany
Unless it’s a particularly upscale restaurant, you don’t wait to be seated - you just walk in and choose your own table. At bars, cafés, and very informal CROWDED restaurants, it’s okay to sit down next to strangers, as long as you get an affirmative response to “Ist hier noch frei”? (Is this seat vacant?)
Don’t expect any ice cubes in your soda, you need to ask for it. There are NO free refills on drinks. The basket of bread or pretzels on the table sometimes costs extra, so don’t be surprised if you’re charged for what you eat from it.
Water will not automatically be brought to your table. You have to order it and you will be brought bottled water which you have to pay for. The default water is sparkling. If you do not want that, ask for “stilles Wasser” or “ohne Kohlensäure”. If you want tap water (which is highly unusual in Germany and will get you looks, especially in non-touristy restaurants), you might ask for “Leitungswasser”. Note that it is not customary at all to serve tap water at a restaurant in Germany.
If you cross your knife and fork on your plate, it means you’re just pausing. If you line them up side by side, it means you’re finished, and the waiter may come and take your plate away. Doggie bags are still mostly unknown so your waiter/tress may be surprised if you asked to take leftovers home with you.
German waiters and waitresses are usually paid more per hour than in some countries (like the USA), so they do NOT rely on large tips. The general rule is to round up the bill to the next larger amount, so if your bill is 22.50 Euros you might give 24 or 25. Your waiter/waitress usually will remain at the table while you pay, so make sure to let them know how much tip you want to leave. For example, if your bill is 15.70 Euros and you want to leave 1.30 Euros as a tip then say “Siebzehn bitte” (Seventeen please) when handing them a 20 Euro note. While credit cards are accepted in most restaurants, it’s more common to pay with cash.