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 >  Home   >   Business Dinners
German Business Etiquette in English

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Business Dinners

- chapter excerpt - the entire article -

It is traditional in Germany to eat the main meal of the day at lunchtime, between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM.

Prost Mahlzeit!

In contrast to a long, several-course meal, a German lunch usually consists of an appetizer (usually soup), a main course, and a dessert.
When you are attending a business conference, both lunch and dinner are considered important components of the conference. Meals allow those attending to make personal contacts and to continue discussing business issues in a more casual atmosphere.

Ladies at the Dinner Table
Contrary to earlier traditions that frowned upon women speaking with the waiter, tasting the wine, or paying the bill, all of these things are normal today. It is not only acceptable for a woman to ask for the bill, but also to enter a restaurant first, and - if acting as hostess - to try the wine before it is served. However, this last situation will usually not come into question at business luncheons because, in most cases, only non-alcoholic beverages are served.

Alcoholic Beverages
The consumption of alcohol in Germany (even during the work day) may be more common than you are used to in your country, and when others drink, you may feel pressured to drink as well. Again, you don't need to worry - modern etiquette suggests that it is acceptable to refuse a drink. In fact, you can even offer to order drinks for others and refrain from drinking alcohol yourself.

Leaving a Tip
Generally, the rule states that 10-15% of the bill's total should be left as a tip if you were satisfied with the service you received. If you weren't satisfied, you can simply not leave a tip, and others will not frown upon you. You may, on the other hand, want to leave more than the standard 10-15% tip if the restaurant staff really went out of their way to accommodate your needs. Also, when leaving, it is polite to thank the staff or your waiter / waitress with, "Danke schön." ("Thank you.") This lets you express your appreciation in addition to the tip that you leave behind.

Specific Questions

  1. When in Germany, should I conform my table manners to those of the Germans?
    For the most part, you do not have to make too much effort to mirror the Germans at the table. If you practice good table manners at home, they will suffice in Germany; it is not necessary to worry about how to hold your fork or where to place your napkin. But be careful - some behavior should be avoided. For example, in Southern Asia, it is normal to chew loudly when eating and to belch after a good meal. If you were to do this in Germany, it could embarrass you as well as those sitting with you.
  2. What are a few table manners that I should keep in mind in Germany?
    • Before eating, wish everyone at the table "Guten Appetit." ("Enjoy your meal.")
    • Only take as much food as you plan on eating. The Germans usually "clean their plates".
    • When you or others are eating, keep your hands on the table, not under it.
    • Sit up straight, close to the table.
    • Don't prop your head up with your hands.
    • Don't bend your head over your food when you are eating or "shovel" your food in your mouth.
    • Don't begin eating until everyone at the table has been served.
    • Don't begin drinking until everyone has something to drink and a toast has been made.
    • Look others in the eye when toasting.
    • Do not get up to leave when you have finished eating, but wait for the others; if you came to dinner with others, then leave with them also.
    • Do not belch or chew with your mouth open.
    • When you are finished eating, places your knife and fork together and rest them on your plate.
  3. Should a host pay the bill at the table with the guests present?
    No! It is much more polite to pay the bill at the bar in order to avoid misunderstandings or discussions about paying. This also allows the host to inconspicuously pay, look over the bill, leave a tip, and order an aperitif for everyone.
  4. Is it acceptable to ask for the house wine in a good restaurant?
    Yes! A good house wine is a good advertisement for a restaurant. Also, you can be sure that a wine from wine countries such as Germany, France, and Italy will never be of bad quality. When your budget doesn't allow an extremely expensive wine, ask the waiter to recommend a low cost, quality wine. By naming the amount that you are willing to spend, you show that you are confident in the situation and not embarrassed to ask.
  5. When I order soup, is it polite to tip up my soup cup and drink the last bit of soup?
    Yes! However, in order to do this tactfully, take hold of one of the soup cup handles, tip, and drink. Keep in mind that this is only polite when your soup comes served in a CUP, not a bowl!
  6. Is it appropriate to use toothpicks or put on lipstick at the table?
    Yes! These are not the most tactful things to do at the table, but if they have to be done, then go ahead. Lipstick can be put on discretely almost anywhere, but is it really necessary to put it on at the table? If you really want to freshen up your make-up, be sure to go to the bathroom.
  7. When I attend a social event, should I wait to take off my sport coat or jacket until I am asked to do so by the host?
    Yes! Good hosts and hostesses should react quickly when they notice that the room temperature is rising and offer to take your coat for you.
  8. Is it true that I should not lay my paper napkin in my plate when I am finished eating?
    Yes! In Germany it is customary to fold your napkin after eating and place it to the left side of your plate. The Germans have a very strict recycling system, and this helps ensure that the napkin ends up in the correct recycling bin. Cloth napkins should also be folded and laid to the left side of your plate, never in the plate!
  9. If I would like to say a few words at the table or to make a toast, is it appropriate to bang on the side of my glass to get people's attention?
    No! Although you typically see this in old German movies, today it is more appropriate to stand and ask for their attention in a slightly raised voice. Those seated at the table should automatically stop talking and pay attention.

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