Almost every street in Germany has its Gaststätte, a sort of combination restaurant and pub, and every village its Gasthof, or inn. The emphasis in either is on simple food at reasonable prices. A Bierstube (pub) or Weinstube (wine cellar) may also serve light snacks or meals.
Service can be slow, but you'll never be rushed out of your seat. Something else that may seem jarring at first: people can, and do, join other parties at a table in a casual restaurant if seating is tight. It's common courtesy to ask first, though.
Since Germans don’t generally drink from the tap, water always costs extra and comes as still or sparkling mineral water.
Budget Eating Tips
Imbiss (snack) stands can be found in almost every busy shopping street, in parking lots, train stations, and near markets. They serve Würstchen (sausages), grilled, roasted, or boiled, and rolls filled with cheese, cold meat, or fish. Many stands sell Turkish-style wraps called döner kebab. Prices range from €1.50 to €2.50 per portion. It's acceptable to bring sandwich fixings to a beer garden so long as you order a beer there, just be sure not to sit at a table with a tablecloth.
Butcher shops, known as Metzgereien, often serve warm snacks or very good sandwiches. Try Warmer Leberkäs mit Kartoffelsalat, a typical Bavarian specialty, which is a sort of baked meat loaf with mustard and potato salad. In northern Germany try Bouletten, small meatballs, or Currywurst, a Berlin classic, sausages in a piquant curry sauce. Thuringia has a reputation for its bratwurst, which is usually broken in two and packed into a roll with mustard. Up north, the specialty snack is a herring sandwich with onions.
Restaurants in Kaufhof and Karstadt department stores are especially recommended for appetizing and inexpensive lunches. The 6th-floor food hall in Berlin's luxury KaDeWe department store offers an excellent choice of upscale catering stands. Germany's vast numbers of Turkish, Italian, Greek, Chinese, and Balkan restaurants are often inexpensive.
Meals and Mealtimes
Most hotels serve a buffet-style breakfast (Frühstück) of rolls, cheese, cold cuts, eggs, cereals, yogurt, and spreads, which is often included in the price of a room. Cafés, especially the more trendy ones, offer breakfast menus sometimes including pancakes, omelets, muesli, or even Thai rice soup. By American standards, a cup (Tasse) of coffee in Germany is very petite, and you don't get free refills. Order a Pot or Kännchen if you want a larger portion.
For lunch (Mittagessen), you can get sandwiches from most cafés and bakeries, and many fine restaurants have special lunch menus that make the gourmet experience much more affordable. For most Germans, a warm lunch is still the main meal of the day. Dinner (Abendessen) is usually accompanied by a potato, rice, pasta, or (in South Germany) spätzle side dish. A salad sometimes comes with the main dish.
Gaststätten normally serve hot meals from 11:30 am to 9 pm; in smaller cities, many places stop serving hot meals between 2 pm and 6 pm, although you can still order cold dishes. If you want a hot meal, look for a restaurant advertising durchgehend geöffnet, or look for a pizza parlor.
Once most restaurants have closed, your options are limited. Take-out pizza parlors and Turkish eateries often stay open later. In Berlin and other big cities, grocery stores in the city center are sometimes open until 10 pm or even midnight. Failing that, your best option is a train station or a gas station with a convenience store. Many bars serve snacks.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Credit cards are generally accepted only in moderate to expensive restaurants, so check before sitting down. You will need to ask for the bill (say "Die Rechnung, bitte") in order to get it from the waiter, the idea being that the table is yours for the evening. Round up the bill 5% to 10% and pay the waiter directly rather than leaving any money or tip on the table. The waiter will likely wait at the table for you to pay after he has brought the check. He will also wear a money pouch and make change at the table. If you don’t need change, say "Stimmt so, danke" ("keep the change"), otherwise tell the waiter how much change you want back, adding in the tip. Meals are subject to 19% tax (abbreviated as "MwSt" on your bill).
Reservations and Dress
Regardless of where you are, it's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. In most fine-dining establishments it's expected. We only mention them specifically when reservations are essential (there's no other way you'll ever get a table) or when they're not accepted. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Parties of more than four should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.) We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Note that even when Germans dress casually, their look is generally crisp and neat. Jeans are acceptable for most social occasions.
For such an otherwise health-conscious nation, Germans smoke. A lot. Anti-smoking laws came into effect in 2008, effectively banning smoking in all restaurants and many pubs, but many Germans, particularly in Berlin and Hamburg, tend to ignore them. Many hotels have no-smoking rooms and even no-smoking floors. However, a smoker will find it intrusive if you request him or her to refrain.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
The "Wines of Germany" website promotes the wines of all 13 German wine regions and can supply you with information on wine festivals and visitor-friendly wineries. It also arranges six-day guided winery tours in spring and fall in conjunction with the German Wine Academy.
It's legal to drink beer from open containers in public (even in the passenger seat of a car), and having a beer at one's midday break is not something that raises eyebrows. Bavaria is not the only place to try beer. While Munich's beers have achieved world fame—Löwenbräu and Paulaner, for example—beer connoisseurs will really want to travel to places farther north like Alpirsbach, Bamberg, Erfurt, Cologne, or Görlitz, where smaller breweries produce top-notch brews.
German Wine Academy. 06131/28290; www.germanwines.de.
Wines of Germany. 212/994–7523; www.germanwineusa.org.