We want to talk about how to order at a bar, pub or restaurant with courtesy. Being polite is as important in Germany as it is in any other country, but Germans do have some mannerisms you need to be aware of.
In another blog post we talked about how to request something politely when speaking German. Since we’ve learnt the basics, we can specialise today.
Don’t commit a blunder and get kicked out of your favourite venue by following these simple tricks:
- Don’t literally translate: I will have … and …
- Instead, use correct German
First of all, we’ll talk about why it’s better to not put your translation skills to work, and after that we’ll show you how to order your food or drink with correct spoken German.
Table service is common in Germany
First thing to know:
At restaurants or pubs, there will most likely be table service. So just show up, check to see where the waiter/waitress is, confirm you have their attention by nodding, pick a table and take a seat.
If you are unsure, just wait by the entrance, someone will come over to take you to your seat, or otherwise signal to you to take a seat wherever you like.
After a couple of minutes, the waiter will rush to your table to hand you the menu and leave it with you. Closing the menu will let him or her know you are ready to order.
Literal translation into German
And off we go. We’re ready to order:
“I will have the chicken schnitzel with the chips and the side salad.”
Let’s make it a German sentence:
“Ich werde das Hähnchenschnitzel mit den Pommes (or Fritten) und dem Beilagensalat haben.”
This sentence looks promising since we are using the dative after the preposition mit and have consequently changed die Pommes into mit den Pommes and der Salat into (mit) dem Salat. Well done.
But that’s a literal translation and Germans are unlikely to order their schnitzel in this way. They are unlikely to order in this way because we are using the future tense: Ich werde das Schnitzel haben. (= I will have the schnitel.)
Germans usually use the present tense instead as in Ich fahre nächste Woche nach Deutschland. (Lit.: I drive to Germany next week.)
Please don’t threaten the waiter
Since the future tense is rarely used by Germans, it must be a special occasion when it finally finds its way into a sentence. In fact, using the future tense means not just stressing that something is going to happen; it is saying that it is going to happen inevitably.
When you order your schnitzel and say:
Ich werde das Schnitzel haben.
You probably think you are saying:
I will have the schnitzel, thank you.
But you are actually saying:
I am going to have this schnitzel, no matter what. I don’t care if it’s not even on the menu. You’d better have schnitzel here in the next few minutes, because otherwise…!
That’s a straight-up threat to Germans.
How to politely order in German
I’ll show you how to order instead.
Using the present tense of nehmen:
Ich nehme das Hähnchenschnitzel. (Lit.: I take the chicken schnitzel.)
Using the subjunctive of nehmen:
Ich würde das Hähnchenschnitzel nehmen (Lit.: I would take the chicken schnitzel.)
Using the subjunctive of haben:
Ich hätte gerne das Hähnchenschnitzel. (Lit.: I would have/would like to have the chicken schnitzel.)
Ich wäre soweit. Ich hätte gerne das Hähnchenschnitzel. (Lit.: I would be/was ready. I would like to have the chicken schnitzel.
Or simply use möchten:
Ich möchte auch gerne einen Gartensalat. (=I would like also like the ‘Gartensalat’.)
That’s it. Well done! Bear these little tricks in mind and you’ll be fine (having an accent will most likely help you out of any cultural trouble anyway).
In short, here is what you want to remember
When ordering in a German speaking country, say
- Ich nehme … or
- Ich hätte gerne … or
- Ich würde … nehmen.
I wonder if you have ever threatened the waiter at your favourite German café or restaurant without knowing about it? Let me know in the comments.