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In Bavaria, I paid for my drink, I asked her for "Ruckgeld", but only got the integer part of the money back, the rest of it, she kept it for tip! I looked her in the eye and she understood that I wasn't happy with that "initiative", but wouldn't blink an eye!

My company advised me to let it go, mentioning that if I was going to ask for the change, she would swear.

Notice how she didn't return me the correct amount back and then stare at me, demanding for tip, but she would decide for me!

Since, I will be around for a week or so, I was thinking of paying the exact amount of money next time. Will I get in an uncomfortable situation of having the waiter stare at me, demanding a tip? In other words, is tipping mandatory in Germany?


PS: Having experienced the tipping-cruelty in USA, and having tipped generously waiters across the Mediterranean for their supreme behavior, this Saturday night came as a shock, since I had the impression that this awful habit was only a USA-thing (you know, just like the fake audience laughing they have in USA TV series :) ).

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    Did you go to a fairly touristy place and did she recognise you as a foreigner? I have never experienced nor heard of something like that. As @cbeleites points out in their answer, this would be considered as totally unacceptable behaviour by locals. – Daniel Oct 30 '18 at 22:39
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    Tipping cruelty? – copper.hat Oct 31 '18 at 10:38
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    Please @copper.hat, read the chat, already discussed. :) – gsamaras Oct 31 '18 at 10:40
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    No. It’s recommended, the usual amount is 3% to 6% (not 10%, that’s American), and you usually just round numbers up. (My rule of thumb is, 25¢ for every begun 5€, which is in the 3–6% range.) It’s acceptable to not tip, e.g. when short on money, but also when dissatisfied. – mirabilos Oct 31 '18 at 14:47
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    As a Scotsman, I must play into the added stereotype that the Germans have created for us: mean & decidedly money-pinching. I am therefore obligated to not tip. I have a reputation to maintain. – PCARR Nov 2 '18 at 17:43

11 Answers 11

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Tipping is not at all mandatory in Germany and usually the service personnel does not rely on tips as much as in the USA, say. Usually, if you do not state the amount you want to round up to ("make it X EUR" — or "Stimmt so" if you do not expect change at all), they will start picking up coins from their purse and give you the exact amount of change without even a frown. Nevertheless, they sometimes do this search for coins suitably slowly to give you the opportunity to correct your forgetfulness by specifying your tip while they are searching or by simply not picking up all the change.

That being said, rounding up by approximately 5% up to 10% (or to the next or second next full Euro for small amounts) is overwhelmingly common for most types of Restaurant unless you were quite dissatisfied.

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    +1 This is my experience as well. To back it up even more, here is a video by EasyGerman asking people on the street in Germany how to tipp: youtube.com/watch?v=0BPZXUon3Qw – Sumyrda Oct 28 '18 at 21:34
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    One additional point it is worth making: you give the tip directly to the server, you do not leave it on the table (which is the norm in the UK). – Martin Bonner Oct 29 '18 at 9:34
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    Make sure that, if you tip, you round up to full Euros making it easier for the waiter to find your change, especially in a busy place. If your bill is 4€90, and you hand the waiter a 10€ bill saying "make this 5€20", you'll come across as incredibly rude. – Guntram Blohm Oct 29 '18 at 10:38
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    @GuntramBlohm: Though that's exactly the kind of situation where I tend to tip by first waiting for the exact change to be returned, to hand over a (previously prepared) set of coins afterwards. – O. R. Mapper Oct 29 '18 at 22:00
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    @Damon: The "Gesetz zur Steuerfreistellung von Arbeitnehmertrinkgeld" (BGBl. I 2002 S. 3111) tells otherwise. Waiters do not have to pay taxes for any money that is directly handed to them by third persons independently of their regular income and without legal claim, i.e. voluntarily. Regardless of the amount of tips (they may triple your regular income). See also the thereby changed §3 Nr. 51 EStG (since 2002). This also (legally) defines tips as a voluntary thing for Germany. – Philip Klöcking Oct 29 '18 at 22:21
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TL;DR

  • Tipping is never mandatory, but most Germans do it.
  • 5%-10% is most common, round up to a whole number, or to 50 ct if amount < 10€
  • Not tipping does not automatically mean that you were unsatisfied, but could be a hint.

Should I tip?

In general, deciding whether or how much to tip is a subject of debate in Germany as well, just as in many other countries. But while non-tipping people are weird in the US, this is not the case in Germany.

Most people do tip, so that is "the norm", and often more than would be required, to avoid appearing stingy. But this tells you that its more about the perception by other people not because the servers need it. Nobody will approach you and ask what's wrong, if you don't tip.

Of course tips can make up a substantial part of the servers earnings but they are not vital, like in the US.

How much?

5%-10% is commonly accepted rate but can be raised to 15%. The most important factor is to make the amount a whole number by rounding it up. For low amounts below 10€ you can also round up (after tip) to the nearest 50ct.

If the bill says 16,60 €, you would pay 18 €, if you think the service was really good or you don't care about money you could do 19 €. Giving 20 € might come accross as showing off or trying to impress the (female) server. So don't overdo it.

What to say?

  • If you don't say anything and just hand the server your money, they should give you the change to the cent. If they don't, this would be very rude and worth a complaint.

  • If you want to tip, you just say the desired amount while you are handing him the money, e.g. Achtzehn, bitte. So, simply the amount followed by a "Bitte". He will give you change for the amount specified by you.

  • If you have the desired amount handy, you just give him the 18 € and say "Stimmt so!" which informs the server that this is the correct amount you want to give and he does not have to give you anything back.

Why rounding up?

The tip is not seen as charity but serves to ease the transaction while also complimenting the person that took care of you.

Servers in Germany are not except from minimal wage and we have social security. You'll never be hungry or have no place to live if you don't work. Therefore, we do not feel that we need to contribute something to the servers wage. The tip is considered an extra.

Rounding up, eases the payment (less change to keep in your pocket + less math to do in your head) and serves as a "front" for the tip. It does not serve to secure the "survival" of the server, you are merely "to lazy" to do the math and don't mind giving a little extra while you are it.

Of course not everyone thinks about this with this much detail, but imho, this is the generalized German attitude towards tipping.

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    @JonH: Be assured that you never made a waiter unhappy by tipping them too much :-) – TonyK Oct 29 '18 at 0:33
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    "Not tipping does not mean that you were unsatisfied" - I think this claim is incorrect. Not tipping here in Germany is a bit of a slap in the face of the waiter. It is true that "[n]o-one will approach you and ask what's wrong, if you don't tip", but that is more of a saving-face thing ("the customer has expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the service by not tipping, let's not make things even more awkward for everyone involved by making this a topic of conversation") than with not tipping not sending a strong message. At least, that's the way it's handled in South-West Germany. – O. R. Mapper Oct 29 '18 at 5:50
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    In my city (in the North, lots of students) if you don't tip and look young enough, people will assume you're a student on a budget. The benefit of the doubt is also given to anyone not obviously well off as long as it isn't a high end restaurant. Also, it's common for waiters to ask whether you were satisfied before brining the bill - so tipping is definitely not the only way to express your satisfaction. – Sumyrda Oct 29 '18 at 6:41
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    "to avoid doing the math" No, I do it to avoid having loads of little coins in my purse. – RedSonja Oct 29 '18 at 7:37
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    the usual tip in germany is 5% to 10%, as you do no exact calculation by rounding to a full number you might give little more (14,20€ + 10% = 15,62€ -> 16€, which makes 12,7% tip), but doing this with a start of 15% or even 20% is very unusual and looks wired - so probably no waiter would complain. – Bernd Wilke πφ Oct 29 '18 at 8:43
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Others have explained how tipping works normally in Germany.

I'd like to add that what you describe would certainly be a reason for me to not tip at all, i.e. insist on my full change: refusing the correct change is just totally outside acceptable behaviour for a waiter.

And by the way, it is less usual but not unheard of to first get the full change and then hand over the tip.
This is similar to how tipping is done in small bakeries or at the village butcher's: they have a separate box for tips (or sometimes for donations to some other cause): the official cash register is for the exact price (and has to be correct to the cent), everything else has to go somewhere else. For waiters coming to the table it is too inconvenient to have 2 purses, but already the bar at the local sports club may have the cash box for sold goods/drinks and a separate tip box (typically donations to the kids/youth section)

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    +1 for pointing out the really rude and uncommon behaviour of the waitress. – Daniel Oct 30 '18 at 22:31
  • Right. In fact I've encounters waiters who tried to give back change even when the amount I gave suggested clearly I wanted to tipp, something like 19,00 € → given 21,00 → tried giving back a 2 € coin... – leftaroundabout Nov 1 '18 at 16:45
  • I'd suggest that many Germans who work in bars and similar are getting irritated by tourists who don't tip when it's generally socially expected to because the tourists didn't bother doing their homework before traveling. – Pete Nov 2 '18 at 14:09
  • @Pete: While I think your observation is true, IMHO that irritation is still no reason to refuse giving the full change. In fact, I don't think there's any valid excuse for not giving change short of that tip in question having been promised before. In addition, in the encounter described by OP, the waitress did not yet have (IHMO) any valid reason for such an irritation: she can know that she didn't get any tip only after the guests leave with their full change. The usual German way of indicating rounding up requires rather advanced command of the German language - which is more than the... – cbeleites Nov 2 '18 at 18:45
  • ... homework I think one can expect from a tourist. IMHO both leaving tip on the table when going and handing over the tip from the change (as a 2nd transaction after paying) are totally acceptable ways of tipping. Both include the waitress handing over the change. And this IMHO has to be the automatic reaction if no tip is expressed within the second-ish timeframe when paying when we usually do this. BTW: I know several foreigners who had done their homework about tipping but nevertheless were to shy to try the rounding-up way and decided to hand over the tip separately. – cbeleites Nov 2 '18 at 18:56
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Tipping is generally never mandatory in Germany, but the general etiquette is:

  • Restaurants and bars where they bring you food and drink to the table: Yes
  • Restaurants where you carry your food to the table yourself: No
  • Bars where you carry your drink to the table yourself: Optional, but doing so can improve quality of service if you want another drink later.
  • Food delivery services: Yes, unless they are late.
  • Retail: No, but they sometimes collect change for charity. Participation is optional.
  • Cab drivers: Optional
  • Tour guides: Optional, when they ask for it
  • Street performers: Optional, when you like them and they placed some container in front of them to throw change into. Do not give money to people who perform in a place where it is explicitly forbidden, like on a train for example. Do not enable rule breakers!
  • Any government employee: Gets you arrested for attempted bribery

As other answers have pointed out, you usually tip by rounding the bill up to an even sum.

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    "Music in public transport: depends: if stationary (in buildings, at entrance) optional; self performed AND high quality (playing guitar for example) in trains/subway/etc: optional; low quality, loud or even electronic supported (more loud): NEVER" - add to the list since lots of people arrive at the airport and its the first "steal-from-tourists"-thing they may encounter (also the spots at public transport buildings normally are paid for by the artist via day license), while in most cities its not allowed to perform in carriages, tipping the ones that don't play by the rules: more than unfair – user2567875 Nov 1 '18 at 5:28
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    @user2567875 quality is subjective, but my recent edit should cover most of this. – Philipp Nov 1 '18 at 16:48
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    +1 For mentioning the difference between getting table service (drinks brought to you, you should tip) and self-service (you collect the drinks, tipping nice but not so expected) – Pete Nov 2 '18 at 14:03
10

The behaviour of the waitress described is highly unusual for Germany. Were you at Oktoberfest or some other tourist trap location?

Tipping in Germany is not mandatory, though it is very common to round up for an effective tip around 10%. Note that we don't go by percents, we go by convenience. So if your bill is 28.30 Euros, you would typically give 30 and say "stimmt so" (which means roughly "fits like this", and indication that you don't expect change). If the bill is 29.60 Euros, you would typically give 30 plus a one or two Euro coin. We would never calculate exactly 10% and then add that.

However, I have only once in my entire life had a waiter or waitress not return exact change if not explicitly told "stimmt so" or something similar.

You absolutely do have a right to pay the exact amount on the bill, and a service person should not make a fuss about it. While tipping is highly common (almost everyone at least rounds up), if a waitress did not return me change upon me asking for it (your "Rückgeld"), I would ask for the manager.

9

How much one tips also depends on the place; more in a restaurant where one sat at a table, less for takeout food, probably nothing in a bakery where one buys bread rolls. It is certainly possible to specify the tip when one hands over the money, as in "make it €15" when the bill says €14.20 (which would be on the stingy side).

In the example given above, €14.20, handing over €17 would imply that one intendeds it as tip, otherwise one would have given €15 ...

6

I usually round up to the next Euro when under €10, to the next second or third Euro when under €25-30. After that approx. 10% but not more than €5 except service was extraordinary and outstanding.

If the service is below average (or prices are not reasonable), I don't tip since tip is actually already included in the price in Germany and Switzerland.

3

10% is the usual amount. But if you have cash, what you usually do is take the amount, and round it up. If your bill is €24.30, you leave €27 which is very close to 10%. If it is €24.90, you will see people thinking: Should I give €27 which is tight or €28 which is more generous?

Obviously more or less if the service was very good or very bad. No tip doesn't mean "not completely satisfied", it means it was so bad that you will never, ever come back. (I think I've done that once, when a friend and I ordered the same meal, and the bill was for 2x price of two meals = 4 meals instead of two).

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    You should have stated that, and I am pretty sure they would correct it, it is very likely that this was a mistake. Thanks for the info, +1, rounding up seems ridiculous to me, but I guess when in Rome .... – gsamaras Oct 28 '18 at 15:58
  • Well, if I hadn't noticed it it would have been a mistake that was rather expensive for me. "If I hadn't watched out the bill would have been €30 more" means "no tip". – gnasher729 Oct 28 '18 at 17:57
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    it means it was so bad that you will never, ever come back This simply not true. In Germany it is not uncommon to not tip at all and this does not mean what you are impying. Yes, it more common to tip but not tipping doesn't have the same severity it does in the US. – problemofficer Oct 28 '18 at 19:47
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    ah @gsamaras when in rome, prepare to pay through the teeth!. – djsmiley2k Oct 28 '18 at 20:13
  • @gsamaras: See my answer for why we round up. It's imho a matter of respect, because you would only give charity to beggars. – problemofficer Oct 28 '18 at 20:57
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Actually, in Bavarian we do not say "stimmt so", but we say "des basst a-so" or "des basst scho" or something alike "mach'ma 18", when rounding up to integer values (please don't ask me to explain the grammar of this assumed "we" form). There's even places, where they refuse the accept the rounded value - but return to the cent, no matter what you tell them (always depending on their policy).

If someone takes his/her own tip, this is highly incorrect and this place should better be avoided. the proper response might be "es Kratler", which roughly translates to "you punks". Bavarian is Daytsh, alike Yiddish is... that's why it tends to foul language, especially when it comes to incorrectness.

That would at least be a statement, which would communicate, that you're not a tourist.

Because: such scammers do assume, to see you once only and then never again.

Demanding to see the manager is not common for small amounts; but future avoidance is.

If wanting to argue, then demand the full change first and then leave them 10 cents as tip (as insult).

Which also implies, that tiny tips might be understood that way, in general.

As a rule of thumb, don't over-do it and don't under-do it. It should be fair, depending on the occasion, the amount of people which had been served (both important factors in gastronomy, which had not yet been stated) and the overall amount which had been charged, multiplied by the service quality provided (in a range from 0 to 1.5). Giving no tip at all is less likely to be understood as an insult, but when tipping a tiny amount, they might ask you what was wrong with the food or service (responding with an insult of a tip, to an insulting service-quality level); basically, that's a non-verbal inquiry for a service-quality suggestion to be asked for.

1

In Germany, not leaving any tip is telling you weren't satisfied with the service. You may do this, but it's very rude if you also tell in words you were satisfied.

The most common practice is to tip around 5%. Small orders 10%.

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    This is wrong. Not leaving a tip is not communicating that you aren't satisifed, at all. – problemofficer Oct 28 '18 at 19:44
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    This answer is not correct. The default is for the wait staff to return the money to the cent. It is then up to the customer to decide. Yes, it is common to tip (and even more common to skip this process and inform the wait staff how big the tip is before they return the money) but it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for someone to only pay the actual amount charged. – user2705196 Oct 28 '18 at 20:36
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    Definitely wrong. You only leave a tip if you were above satisfied. – insidesin Oct 28 '18 at 22:47
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    This is wrong. Tips are totally optional. – John Keates Oct 28 '18 at 23:03
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    German from South-Western Germany here: I think this answer is correct. Not tipping is like expressing "Service by everyone involved, especially the waiter, was abysmal." At the same time, numbers like 15% stated in other answers seem way over the top to me. When I'm charged 25€, for instance, a total payment of 26€ (i.e. 1€ as a tip) is completely appropriate in my experience. – O. R. Mapper Oct 29 '18 at 5:46
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The waitress was being substantially rude to you and I don’t understand your company advising you to let it be (were they non-German?). The correct answer to her would have been ‘x cents are missing’ (in German: ‘Da fehlen x cent.’) with a mildly angry tone in your voice.

While tipping is common in restaurants in Germany it is not mandatory and it is always seen as something nice you do voluntarily. Waitors may give you ample opportunity to decide on a tip, e.g. slowly ‘searching’ for coins in the purse (it might as well just be shuffling around) but barring any statement from the customer exact change is to be given (and you should not have to ask for it).

If I were to witness such a behaviour even if not directed to myself, I would remove whatever I had intended to tip from the bill.

  • Non German company, indeed, logical answer Jan, thanks! PS: Nice hat:) – gsamaras Dec 12 '18 at 7:36

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