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Trinkgeld: What you need to know about tipping culture in Germany

When do Germans tip, how much do they tend to give and what do waiters actually expect? These are all questions we put to a sociologist at Frankfurt University.

Trinkgeld: What you need to know about tipping culture in Germany
Photo: DPA

Tipping is one of those strange things that seems to exist almost everywhere, but which has subtle cultural nuances that can be embarrassing if you misunderstand them.

In the US, waiters sometimes rely entirely on tips for their money, meaning restaurant-goers are used to tipping generously if they are happy with the service.

In Germany it’s a little different though, explains Dr. Christian Stegbauer, an academic at Frankfurt University who recently conducted a study into German tipping culture.

In many German restaurants the tip is actually included in the price of the food, he says. Add to this the fact that all service staff are on at least minimum wage and there is no actual compulsion to give a tip, or Trinkgeld, as it is known in German.

“We spoke to some people during our research who said they tend not to give tips at all,” he said.

That certainly isn’t the norm, though.

“People generally told us that they tip between five and ten percent and many said that they always give the same regardless of how good the food actually was,” the academic said.

German waiters themselves expect a tip at the upper end of that scale: the ones Stegbauer spoke to tended to say that 10 percent was appropriate.

But the service staff also treat regulars differently to people who come for a single visit. Restaurants are happy enough that their regulars keep coming back and therefore don’t expect any bonuses.

“It is a bit like a friendship – it becomes awkward when money swaps hands,” says Stegbauer.

Germany also differs from countries like the UK in that tips are generally given not just at restaurants, but also in bars and in pubs.

“The difference is that, whereas in an English pub you go up to the bar to buy your drink, in a German Kneipe you are served. The general rule is that you give a tip wherever there is table service,” Stegbauer says.

Handing over the tip is also a matter that requires sensitivity.

“It needs to be done in a way that doesn’t suggest hierarchy and which doesn’t make it seem like you are putting the waiter in their place,” says the academic.

The normal way to do it is therefore to just ask for a little less change back then would otherwise be required. This avoids handing over extra cash, which could be seen as a way of showing off your generosity.

Leaving money on the table when you leave is also acceptable, Stegbauer says. But he adds that this “could lead to an initial feeling of disappointment on the part of the waiter” as they will expect it to be given to them when the bill is settled.

Alternatively, some establishments have a Sparschwein (piggy bank) that customers can drop a couple of coins into when they leave.

The Frankfurt academic also warns that cultural factors limit just how helpful a waiter will be though.

“Waiters in the US introduce themselves by name and are very friendly and helpful. But this is probably a cultural thing as you see the same behaviour at a supermarket too. In Germany this behaviour is neither common in a restaurant or a supermarket.”

So does tipping help improve the quality of service in Germany?

“Yes, the service staff we spoke to realized that being friendly was important for getting a good tip,” Stegbauer responds.

But he notes that in certain German establishments it is almost expected that the service staff are rude.

“In Cologne’s brewer bars or Frankfurt’s apple wine bars the staff are known for being unfriendly and making curt remarks. But people tip them anyway.”

“Besides,” he adds, “what you [English speakers] consider unfriendly a German might take to be astoundingly friendly! That is hard to say,” he says with a laugh.

SEE ALSO: 7 German habits that foreigners really struggle to cope with

Member comments

  1. Don´t forget to tip 10% for the mediocre and somewhat unfriendly service you receive. It´s what is expected of you…Uffff

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DISCOVER GERMANY

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

From dazzling light shows to quirky food festivals, October is a jam-packed month in Germany. Here are some of the events you won't want to miss.

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

Oktoberfest, Munich Teresienwiese, September 17th – October 3rd

As possibly the world’s most famous beer festival, Oktoberfest needs no introduction – and for those who didn’t make it to Bavaria in September, there are still a few days left to catch it at the start of the month.

If you make it on the last bank holiday Monday, you can catch an especially rowdy party atmosphere as professional rifle shooters mark the end of the fest. But any other day at the Wiesn is an experience to remember, with live music and singing in all the tents, delicious Bavarian beer and a gigantic funfair for the most adventurous visitors.

And for those who can’t make it down to Bavaria at short notice, the Hofbräuhaus beer halls around the country celebrate their own mini-Oktoberfests with dancing, singing, live music and of course a crisp litre or two of Hofbräu. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Germany’s Oktoberfest

German Unity Day Celebrations, Erfurt Old Town, October 1st – 3rd 

Marking the day when West and East Germany were formally reunited back in 1990 – a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – Tag der Einheit (Unity Day) is a truly special bank holiday in Germany. 

Each year, a different German city takes it in turn to host the annual Bürgerfest (citizen’s festival) in honour of Germany’s national day. This year, the Thuringian capital of Erfurt will be putting on an action-packed programme of political and cultural events all weekend. To start with, Germany’s five constitutional bodies – the Bundestag, Bundesrat, Federal President, Federal Government and Federal Constitutional Court – will be represented with large information stands on the theme of “Experiencing Politics”. And for those less keen to take a deep dive into the workings of government, each of the 16 states will have the best of their culture and cuisine on display. 

There’ll also be live concerts, performances and a light installation representing German reunification over the weekend, making a visit to scenic Erfurt well worth it. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart, September 23rd – October 9th 

If you want to experience big folk festival but want to steer clear of the tourist crowd in Munich, look no further than Oktoberfest’s Swabian sister, the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. 

First launched in 1818, the festival has become a mainstay of the autumn calendar in Baden-Württemberg, and it’s an event that is fiercely proud of its Swabian roots. If you go, you can sample some of the best local beers and wines around, as well as other traditional Swabian delicacies. You can also go on rollercoasters and other fairground rides, hear trumpeting Oompah bands and get dizzy on the world’s largest mobile Ferris wheel. 

Weimar Onion Market, October 7th – 9th

Nobody can say that Germans don’t make the most of their seasonal produce – and Weimar’s historic Zwiebelmarkt (onion market) is no exception.

The Zwiebelmarkt tradition dates back as early as the 15th century, when traders would come to the bustling town of Weimar to sell their wares. Over the years, the onion market days became a major social event where locals would also gather to eat, drink and barter. These days, you’ll still find all things onion-related at the onion market, from arts and crafts to culinary treats. But there’s also a funfair, live music, beer tents and family friendly activities to boot.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, August 26th – December 4th

If you’re a fan of all things autumnal, look no further than Ludwigsburg Palace, which becomes home to the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition each year from late August to early December. 

It may sound novel, but a walk around the grounds of the palace will show you that in Ludwigsburg, the pumpkin artists certainly don’t do things by halves. Not only can you see incredible sculptures made from around 450,000 pumpkins in total, but you’ll also see a jaw-dropping 600 different varieties of pumpkin there as well. And if you work up an appetite while soaking up the exhibition, you can also sample some delicious pumpkin-based dishes, from soup to Maultaschen.

Pumpkin exhibition Ludwigsburg

Balu and Mowgli from the Jungle Book at the Ludwigsburg pumpkin exhibition. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Filmfest Hamburg, 29th September – October 8

Though it tends to get overshadowed by the show-stopper Berlinale, film buffs who can’t wait until February will enjoy a trip to its Hanseatic sibling: Filmfest Hamburg.

Running throughout the first week of October, the Filmfest brings together the best of contemporary cinema from around the world at a range of venues around the city. This year, the festival is also celebrating its 30th anniversary, so there’s bound to be a truly special atmosphere at the event. 

You can find the full programme in English here.

Berlin Festival of Lights, October 7th – 16th

Each year in the middle of August, the familiar sights of the German capital are bathed in colourful light and transformed each evening into weird and wonderful artistic creations.

This year, the theme of the world famous light festival is “Visions of the Future” as artists explore the question: What will our future look like?

The fruits of their labours can be seen around the city each evening from 7-11pm, after it gets dark. Organisers says there will be a big focus on sculptures this year – as well as the usual large installations – as they seek to reduce their electricity use by 75 percent. 

Berlin cathedral at Festival of Lights 2018

Berlin cathedral lit up in colourful lights at the 2018 Festival of Lights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Frankfurt Book Fair, October 19th – 23rd 

The world’s largest book fair is returning to Frankfurt this October with the theme of “translation”, exploring the idea of translating ideas into new languages, mediums and contexts.

Alongside the sprawling trade fair and conference, there will also be a packed schedule of literary events where people can hear reading and talks by popular authors. You can find out all about the exhibitors at the book fair this year and what’s on at the conference in English on the Frankfurt Book Fair website

Deutsches Weinlesefest, September 23rd – October 10th 

The picturesque wine-growing regions of western Germany hold wine festivals throughout the year, but the Wine Harvest Festival – or Weinlesefest – is by far one of the biggest.

Fittingly enough, the festival is held in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, a pretty little town located along the famous Wine Route. For the few weeks of the festival, this sleepy little town hosts an enormous wine parade and around 100,000 wine-loving visitors. Head there on the 7th to see the crowning of this year’s Palatinate Wine Queen and sample some Rhineland wines out of a dubbeglas, a big glass that holds a whopping 50cl of wine. As always, drink responsibly! 

READ ALSO: 10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

Halloween at Frankenstein’s Castle, October 21st – November 6th 

If the name of Frankenstein’s Castle sounds familiar to you, it should do: apparently, Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, could well have been inspired by the castle when she visited the nearby town of Gernsheim in 1814. 

These days, however, the castle is known for something slightly different: in 1978, American airmen set up an annual Halloween festival at the castle, and the spooky tradition has continued to this day.

Halloween at Frankenstein Castle

A blood-curdling character at Frankenstein Castle’s Halloween Festival in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

If you want to enjoy what’s been described as one of the most spectacular Halloween experiences in the world, it’s well worth booking tickets to go up to the castle in late October. In the weeks around Halloween, the 1000-year-old castle is transformed in a phantasmagoria of monsters and evil beings lurking in the shadows.

Every year, the organisers of the festivals pull yet another technical trick out of their sleeve to ensure that visitors are more spooked than ever. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you think you can handle the adrenaline, it’s bound to be an action-packed night. 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?

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