It can often seem that tipping has a minefield of unwritten rules which you don’t want to get wrong in fear of offending the locals. It’s different to the UK and VERY different to the norms in the United States and Canada.
How does tipping in Germany work?
We take a look at common situations you will find yourself in, and what are seen as “normal” tips in these scenarios without being over-generous or unwittingly tight-fisted.
While this article considers Germany, the same also applies in most situations in Austria and in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
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It’s normal to round up your fare to the nearest Euro if it’s a fairly short trip. More than that is unnecessary unless you see fit and the service was particularly considerate or friendly. As a rule of thumb, I will normally round up anything below €10 to the nearest Euro and anything below €20 to the nearest Euro +1.
Longer trips such as an airport pick-up, especially if I am thankful for the driver turning up on time for early morning flights, then I would round up to the nearest €5. If the driver uses his mobile phone whilst driving or drives dangerously, it’s perfectly OK to not leave anything in the hope that the driver gets the message.
I’ve not set foot inside a barber’s shop for over 15 years and my only experience of hairdressers since then has been meeting girlfriends after their salon appointment. However, I am reliably informed by my female friends that a 5-10% tip is considered normal for pleasant hairdressing experience.
Bellboys and concierges are only a fixture at the most exclusive hotels in Germany, so the conundrum surrounding what to tip them will not be an issue for 95% of people reading this.
For housekeeping staff, if you’re only staying for a couple of nights then typically it is not normal to tip. For longer stays in tourist resorts then leaving a tip is not expected but certainly well appreciated.
Room service is normal to leave a small tip to the person who is bringing your meal. It can be difficult though if you’re charging it to your room on business expenses, unless you’re happy to give them a couple of Euro in change out of your own pocket.
If you’re sat or stood at a bar ordering drinks, for example in a classic Pilsstube, and the barman is just pouring your drinks and putting them on the bar, it is not expected for you to leave a tip other than perhaps rounding up to the nearest Euro (or couple of Euro if you’ve spent an evening in there being served by the same person). Being served drinks at a table is different, and there the same etiquette applies to restaurants and “sit-down” places and serving staff in these establishments will expect to be treated like waiters.
In a sit-down environment such as a restaurant, bistro or bar with table service, it is usual to tip around 10% if service has been polite and efficient and the food has been acceptable.
If service is poor, or if the food is bad, then not leaving a tip will give them a clear message. In a situation where it is genuinely not the waiting staff’s fault, for example if the food is poor quality or the place is chronically understaffed, then if possible, politely explain this to the waiter or waitress so as they don’t take it personally.
For groups, if you are paying the bill all together (zusammen) rather than individually (getrennt), then a maximum tip of around €15 for the whole table is usually the norm. Which goes some way towards explaining why waiting staff are happy to split bills, even if they are run off their feet….a group of 10 people each tipping a couple of Euro each is significantly more lucrative than a group bill!
How to Leave the Tip
The usual way to do it is when they come to take your bill, tell the waiter/waitress out loud the amount in total, including the tip.
For example, the bill for your meal and drinks comes to €18.50 and you want to tip €1.50 to round it up to €20. You would then tell the waiter/waitress “€20 (zwanzig) bitte”. If you have the exact amount you want to pay in cash, then signal that by saying “stimmt so” when handing them the note and they will know not to give you change.
Paying with anything higher than a €50 note may irritate waiting staff, unless you’re in a group and you are paying together.
You will notice waiters and waitresses carrying large wallets around with them.
This is for two reasons:
Firstly, very few establishments which are not chain restaurants take credit cards, except for higher-end places in major tourist destinations and hotels. Therefore waiting staff need to lug cash around.
Secondly, each waiter is responsible for their float and balance, and it’s therefore their responsibility to settle up / cash up with the establishment at the end of their shift. Tips are rarely collectively shared between all staff, although some places will earmark a percentage of the waiting staff’s tips for the bar tenders and kitchen staff.
Exceptions to the Rule
The “rules” above for tipping in Germany don’t apply in any kind of fast-food restaurant such as McD’s, Subway and the like where it is counter service. There you would never tip.
For chain restaurants such as Vapiano and similar concepts, known in Germany as Systemgastronomie, where they have a cashless, cafeteria-style ordering system and you pay at the till at the end, it is also not expected to tip. The logic being, tip for what exactly, if nobody has been your personal server, waiter or bar tender.
Kebab places and Asian wok / noodle bar type fast food establishments would run on something in between. You’re not in the same service environment as a restaurant but somebody may bring your food to you at a table, even if you order and pay at the counter. So rounding up to the nearest Euro is pretty normal in those instances.
A Note For The North Americans
I’ve visited and travelled extensively in the US & Canada and I “get” that tipping is part of the culture there, regardless of service level to a great extent. The fundamental difference between the North American tipping culture and how it works in Germany is that bar and waiting staff here are paid the legal minimum wage. So while tipping in Germany is very much expected in bars, restaurants, taxis and hairdressing salons, it is not something that people need to buy food and pay their rent. Hence it’s usually a couple of Euro rather than 20 or more percent of the bill.
Looking on the bright side, you won’t have servers here robotically saying “have a nice day” every time you buy something!