When arriving in any new country, tipping is one of the first culture considerations. How much? What’s the etiquette? How can I avoid an awkward faux pas on my first night here?
Tipping often seems like a minefield of unwritten rules which you don’t want to get wrong for fear of offending the locals. Offering gratuities in Germany can be a minefield at first. It’s different to the UK and VERY different to the norms in the US and Canada.
How does tipping in Germany work?
While this article focuses on Germany, the same advice will also apply in most situations in Austria and in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
So let’s take a look at common situations you might find yourself in, and discuss how to tip without being over-generous or seeming tight-fisted.
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.
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% 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 no tip is expected. For longer stays in tourist resorts, leaving a tip is not expected but certainly well appreciated.
With room service, it’s normal to leave a small tip to the person who brings your meal.
In sit-down environments such as a restaurants, bistros or bars with table service, if you’re happy with the service and your order, it’s usual to tip around 10%
If service is poor, or if the food is bad, then not leaving a tip will give them a clear message.
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!
If you’re sitting or standing at a bar ordering drinks, for example in a classic Pilsstube, 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 consumed several drinks).
Being served drinks at a table is different. Sit down drinks service follows the same tipping etiquette as being served in a restaurant.
How to Leave the Tip
Usually, when the waiter or waitress comes to take your bill, you tell them out loud the amount you’re going to pay in total, including the tip.
As an example, let’s say 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 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.
You might notice waiters and waitresses carrying large wallets around with them. This is for two reasons:
Firstly, many establishments in Germany don’t accept credit cards, except for higher-end places in major tourist destinations and hotels. Therefore waiting staff need to carry cash.
Secondly, each waiter is responsible for their float and balance, and it’s therefore their responsibility to settle 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 bartenders and kitchen staff.
Exceptions to the Rule
The “rules” above for tipping in Germany don’t apply to any kind of counter service fast-food restaurant such as McDonald’s, Subway and the like. You’re not expected to tip in this kind of establishment.
You also don’t need to tip in chain restaurants such as Vapiano which have a cashless, self-service ordering system (known in Germany as Systemgastronomie). The logic here being, tip for what exactly?
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.
In Germany, tips are smaller, and more dependent on a good level of service.
German serving staff don’t need your tip as much as they do in North America. The fundamental difference being that bar and waiting staff here are paid a wage that they can live off.
So while tipping in Germany is polite, and very much expected, service industry staff aren’t as dependent on tips to make ends meet.
On the bright side, you won’t have servers here robotically saying “have a nice day” every time you buy something!