HOW TO TIP AS THE GERMANS DO
Want to know the most complicated and fear-inducing practice I had to adapt to after moving to the US? It’s not the fact that Americans greet people by saying “How are you” without expecting a genuine response – although that sure is up there.
Nope, it’s tipping.
One of my most dreaded recurring moments was paying at the hair salon and having to calculate the tip in my head with the stylist standing right there, semi-patiently eyeballing me while waiting for me to be done.
Guys! Having to do percentages without a calculator so a bunch of strangers can move on with their lives, all while trying to not offend anyone by getting the wrong result is too much pressure!
If you’re American and need the thrill of having to do math in front of an audience on a regular basis, I’ve got bad news for you: we don’t do that here. It’s not that Germans don’t tip – we’re just a little more relaxed in that regard.
Read on to learn all about the ins and outs of tipping in Germany.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I TIP?
While tips are expected at restaurants, bars, coffee places, and hair salons, German waitstaff and stylists aren’t as dependent on them as in the states. Therefore, no one will bat an eye if you don’t tip. They may not love it, but they won’t go to great lengths to make a viral TikTok video and shame you on social media.
So, how much exactly are you supposed to give them? There is no specific percentage and the amount has less to do with the quality of service than with your total. But as a rule of thumb: the higher your bill the more you tip. For smaller sums simply round up.
For example: If your total is less than ten Euros, say 3.60, it’s very common to just round up and, in this case, tip 40 Cents. Depending on your bill, gradually raise that amount. At, say 169.80 Euros, you would tip 5.20 Euro to make it an even 175.00 Euros.
That’s all? Yup, that is all.
RESTAURANTS, BARS, AND COFFEE PLACES
After you’re done eating, don’t expect the waitstaff to bring your check without being prompted. Whenever you’re ready, let them know by either telling them directly (Zahlen bitte!/Check please!) or by waving your wallet at them.
It can be hard to get their attention. Germany is very well known for its outstanding customer service after all – NOT. However, based on experience, I can assure you, they do want you to pay before leaving, even though they can be very good at hiding that fact.
Until recently, most restaurants didn’t accept card payments, however, this may very well change due to Covid. But for now, let’s talk about this based on how it’s been: cash.
When paying, you hand the waitstaff your money and tell them the full amount you’re looking to give them, which consists of your total plus your tip. Tell them BEFORE getting your change back, preferably while giving them your cash.
Remember, Germans are efficient. They don’t want to waste three minutes of their lives handing germ-ridden money back and forth and getting Covid goo all over their fingers.
Let me illustrate this. You just had a small organic almond milk latte at some fancy hipster coffee place in Munich. The kind where the barista has tattoos on their fingers and crafts a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe from your frothed almond milk. Your total comes down to 5.20 Euro, so you give them a ten Euro bill. You go “sechs/six”, as that’s the sum you would like to pay, including 80 Cents worth of tip. Don’t tell them how much to give you back, since that will lead to confusion. Believe me – I’ve seen it happen more often than I would have liked.
If you have the exact amount, give it to them and say “Passt/It’s okay” or “Stimmt so/That’s correct”.
Important: Don’t put your tip on the table and leave. That’s not common here and people might steal it or run after you, telling you that you forgot your money.
They will get all concerned, too, so please be considerate of their feelings!
There will be piggy banks on the counter unless you go to a place that’s owner-operated with no additional employees. They should have a savings box for each stylist, with their name on it, so you can put the tip in yourself. Remember to bring some extra cash.
The only challenge is remembering your various stylists’ names when you’re looking at eight hollow plastic piggies named Natalie S., Nathalie M., Marcus, Alex, Corinna, Marina, Ina, and Sina.
It’s okay to be struggling with that the first time you’re there, but be prepared to feel slightly embarrassed if you still don’t remember who’s who after your 12th visit.
FOOD DELIVERY PERSON
Delivery people are so rushed that they dash away before you get a chance to tip them. When answering the door, it’s a good idea to already have the exact amount in your hand, ready to fling it at them.
If you live on the 8th floor of a building with a broken elevator and the pizza guy is nice enough to clamber all the way up to your apartment, consider tipping a little more than normal. You do want them to come back and bring it up instead of having to shuffle down and get it yourself, don’t you? After all, that’s why you ordered pizza in the first place.
SPECIAL CASE 1: OFFICES
Many (doctor’s) offices have so-called Kaffeekassen/coffee banks, which they use to pay for coffee (gasp!), cake, or other food. It’s for special occasions they celebrate at the office, like birthdays or Christmas parties.
They don’t usually have their savings bank on display and you are certainly not expected to put any money into it. But if you ever wanted to show your gratitude and do more than simply handing them the ol’ package of Merci chocolates you’d give them some Euros – in this case usually upwards of five – and tell them it’s for their Kaffeekasse.
However, keep in mind that this is not for one specific person, but instead for the entire office, so, even that grumpy employee you never liked – the sweaty one with the bad breath that’s always berating people – will benefit from it.
SPECIAL CASE 2: MAIL DELIVERY PERSON
Tipping them is tricky since they are Beamte which means they work for the state and are prohibited from receiving gifts – especially cash.
You don’t want to come across as someone who’s trying to bribe their mail lady into waiting longer for you to answer the door when delivering a package. We all get the same 2-second window here before they drag our parcels to some nearby dry-cleaner or office supply store for next-day pick-up during weirdly inconsistent business hours. So don’t even think about trying to get them to make your life more convenient!
There is, however, a grey area and they will most likely accept some chocolates for Christmas. It’s not expected and they will still deliver your mail if you don’t give them anything, but it’s a very common practice around the holidays.
So, in a nutshell, Germany can be described as a place where you don’t need to be great at math, but exceptionally good at remembering names, if you want to tip your hairstylist.
Don’t worry, though. Once you’re used to it, you’ll enjoy the German way of tipping. Just think about all the extra money it will save you. You can put it towards trips throughout the rest of Europe, to get away from your overly hot German home in summer.
But before starting your journey, figure out how to tip at your destination, so you can keep your foot out of your mouth!