Tipping in Germany

I’ve read the guide books, of course.  I’ve even traveled to Europe before — but I still haven’t gotten the hang of tipping.  The theory is that you round up a bit, leave your spare change on the table, or maybe leave about 10% of the total bill.  So I try to do that, and I usually finding myself cheating up a bit — 12% really isn’t that much more than 10%, right?  Ok, if I do the math: maybe it’s more like 12.9%.  But who’s really doing the math anyway?  And what’s an extra 50 cents to me? It’s not really about the money, though.  It’s more that it’s hard to shake the idea that not leaving a sufficient tip is completely rude — that it’s actually making a stronger statement to leave a small tip (say, around 10%) than none at all, since that implies that you could have left more but chose not too.

I’m trying to re-train my brain to understand tipping in the German context. The German word for “tip” is Trinkgeld, which roughly translates to “drink money.”  Somehow, by thinking of the tip as leaving a few Euros for a drink, I can overlook the additional non-tipped money.

My take on tipping here is about 180 degrees from how other non-Germans see it, though.  The other day in German class, we were discussing tipping practices.  Generally speaking, most of my classmates found the customs in Germany significantly more generous than those in their home country.  (The other students are predominantly from other European countries and Turkey.)  In Germany, people generally tip their hairdresser (my reaction: “duh;” other students: “are you kidding?”), taxi drivers, and so on.  The list includes most of the professions that I would expect to tip; the amounts are just lower.

A few weeks ago, I went to pay our pizza delivery person. (Side note: we’ve figured out how to order in, and it’s been fabulous to have another food option!)  I realized as I went to pay the man that I didn’t know how much of a tip to leave, so I guess at something between 2 and 3 Euros (probably around 10% of the bill, maybe a bit more).  When I came back upstairs with the food, I described the amounts to M., and noticed his expression shift a bit.  “Was that not enough?” I asked.  “I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I’m afraid I totally stiffed the guy!”  M. grinned at me.  “Nope,” he said, “that was definitely enough.  I would probably have tipped about half as much.”

Sigh.  I wonder, sometimes, what the Germans think of me.  M., who has a good ear these things, says my accent (although noticeably foreign) doesn’t sound “American,” though I’m sure my tipping behavior is.

2 thoughts on “Tipping in Germany”

  1. My tipping in Germany findings follow.

    1. Round up to the nearest even unit.
    2. 5-15% is the range, so close to 10% is a good (and easy amount). Bad service gets nothing. Wait people appreciate the tip.
    3. Do not leave the tip on the table. You tell the wait person how much you will pay (including tip) when they bring the bill.
    4. “If you are feeling bold, try a little German and say Stimmt so (pronounced shtimt zo, meaning “we are even”), and your waiter knows that gratuity is included.”
    5. examples:
    for €7.60 euro bill give €9,
    for €101 bill give €110

    Maybe the common sense of a nice even amount is equally as important as the percentage of the tip.

    Other interesting restaurant differences:
    You find your own seat in a restaurant. If it is crowded you can ask to sit with strangers. Strangers may ask to sit with you, as well. Then you usually politely ignore each other.
    Dinner rolls are not free, so don’t eat them unless you want to pay for them.
    You do not get tap water. It is rude to ask for free water. You can buy still or sparkling mineral water.

    So interesting and confusing. Imagine traveling to many countries that have different customs. And this is just tipping… No wonder many people go with tours. 🙂

  2. Well-researched, Mom! Yes, telling the person how much you wish to pay (total) rather than the amount of the tip strikes me as strange — but that’s exactly how it’s done around here. And you don’t completely ignore strangers at a shared table; you wish each other “Guten Appetit” when food is served — and then you return to politely ignoring them. “Das stimmt” literally means something closer to “that’s right” — so when you say “(das) stimmt so,” you’re really saying, “it (the amount) is already right.” Also, M. says that thinking in terms of percentage is a little misleading, because the tip doesn’t really scale that much. In other words, you might give an extra Euro on a 4 Euro bill, but that doesn’t mean you’d leave 25 Euros — or even 15 — on a 100 Euro bill.

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